I became a youth pastor at just 22 years old. One Sunday morning, a deacon in the church kindly asked me how my weekend went. I joked about how much I’d partied the night before church, and how I couldn’t even remember what happened.
Smooth move, right? Needless to say, word got back to our pastor pretty quick, and I received a firm warning. The pastor loved me enough to correct me, but he also knew I was a young buck without much experience in the church, much less in ministry. He gave me a simple warning I will never forget: “I’ll be more understanding because I’ve been in your shoes, but most people haven’t. They expect more of you.”
I bristled at it then. “I’m sorry if these people can’t take a joke,” I thought. “They expect more of me? I expected more of them!” I was like a whiny dog in a kennel. I was being protected, but I only felt trapped.
Young men often dive head first into a ministry role with a swagger and confidence that is woefully misplaced. At least that was true of me. Successes and failures come, heartache makes you want to quit, growth makes you want to pat yourself on the back, and it seems that everyone in the church has “advice” for you. The fact remains: ministry is never as it seems. Your bad days are sometimes the days that you grow the most (often unknowingly in the moment), and the good times are always sweeter than expected.
The hardest part for me was dealing with the disadvantage that comes with being the youngest person on the staff. No matter how much you read, how many seminary classes you’ve taken, or how much experience you have, the staff and congregants often will not take you as seriously as you would desire. In my case, it was probably because of my immature jokes, but sometimes it’s truly unwarranted.
There were times throughout my twenties when I felt hesitant to speak up at meetings or in general conversation, mainly because I wasn’t sure that anyone cared about my opinion. Fortunately, the other leaders respected my voice and wanted to help me grow. But it’s difficult to tell a 50-year-old pastor, “I told ya so” or “I know that’s worked in the past, but I don’t think it will work this time.”
When I got the opportunity to preach and/or teach, I tried anything I could to make sure that people didn’t tune me out. I would bring up my education level or past ministry experience. I would use big words or talk about theological topics to show how smart I was. I even grew a goatee to look older, much to my wife’s chagrin. Those are Band-Aids, not stitches.
As much as I’d read about parenting, for example, I wasn’t a parent at the time and would be ignored even if my sermon was spot on. If I spoke up in a men’s group about the difficulties of marriage in my first year, I’d get laughed at by older husbands who’d been through more battles. And on and on it went.
All this to say, there is hope for the young pastor. So here is some advice to young pastors from a young pastor:
- Trust the Lord. For whatever reason, God has placed you in this position. Whether you are a youth pastor, singles pastor, or the lead preaching pastor, God has allowed you to do so. Pray, pray, pray. You will be looked at sideways and tuned out at times, but God will place His Word on the hearts of those for whom it is intended. It’s not about you—it’s about faithfulness to the gospel.
- Heed Paul’s Words in 1 Timothy 4:12. “Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Regardless of detractions, set an example even to the older crowd in your church. Do not be defensive or arrogant, but instead be a model of love. Be a Christian first and a pastor last; this order of things tends to work itself out. If you’re loving God and others, your life will flow outwardly into your ministry. People will notice. Just don’t use this verse as a hammer to hit people over the head with. That would be the opposite of Paul’s point.
- Listen to Advice. You won’t always take it or put the advice to use, but advice from older men, more seasoned ministers, and even the little old ladies that storm your office all week, is invaluable. You cannot learn everything from books or podcasts, and the best teacher is almost always experience. Be willing to “lose” if it means you gain a friend. Take full advantage of any criticism or counsel you can get your hands on, even if it seems unfair or hateful. Learn what you can from it. And don’t just listen to critique or feedback—listen in everyday conversation. You will learn a great deal simply by listening to others tell stories and share wisdom.
- Persevere. Ministry at any level can and will crush you at times. You can have strong theology and a great amount of talent, but you are a human with emotions. As Matt Chandler has said, pastors spend all week dealing with other people’s sins. It can absolutely wear you out. Young pastor, grab ahold of Jesus’s grace and immerse yourself in it. Your greatest weapon is the endless grace of God and the great salvation that only He can provide.
Young pastor, it’s easy to buy into Satan’s lies. Ever since the garden, he’s been offering rotting apples in exchange for your eternal joy. But God loves you far more than Satan’s accusations could ever compete with. Be faithful and humble in all things—big or small—and know that if God has placed you in this position, He will see you through.