I sat in the office listening to their frustration, their eyes welling up with tears. This young leader, like so many others I had talked to over the last couple years, could not understand why the ministry they had been leading for a few short months had not exploded immediately. They explained they had been told by friends and church leadership they had a “calling” to ministry, so they had been given the job. They had come in with high hopes and expectations for the ministry and for their life, because they had been “called”.
They had no formal education and only a little volunteer experience working with students. They expressed that their gifting was not in teaching or administration. They had been given the impression that those were not needed in order to succeed, as long as they had a “calling”.
As we continued to talk, they referred to a wooden plaque hanging over their desk. It had been given to them the first day of their new job. In a quaint font was written the popular statement, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
This simple phrase has been repeated to me over and over again in the past couple years, as my wife and I coach and mentor leaders. It has become almost a “magical” mantra of sorts for some in ministry. It is if they repeat it, enough times they will miraculously be qualified… no need to read books, attend a class, go to a training, or even ask others in ministry for help.
There are few challenges to this thought process and phrase, while not taking away from the true Godly calling on someone’s life. These challenges will continue to arise for those entering ministry with little qualifications and little interest in pursue them.
Youth Ministry has a growing list of qualifying legal responsibilities.
Watch the news for more than a week and you will hear a variety of stories involving unqualified adults leading students. Unfortunately long gone are the days of an adult just spontaneously hanging out with a group of students at the church or the local park? In most states a leadership position working with students, makes someone a legal mandatory reporter. Similarly, a leader working with students is under new scrutiny, themselves with the growing accusations of misconduct and abuse among church leaders. Add on to that the responsibilities of things like legal waivers, rental contracts, insurance forms, and even liability agreements. Youth ministry is more than ever a position demanding qualified leadership for the good of the students and the protection of the local church.
Youth Ministry is becoming a qualified professionalized position.
While I am not saying a college degree is a requirement or that churches must have a paid position on staff. Over the last 20-25 year, however, there are more colleges offering degrees and even advance degrees youth ministry. A quick look at online church staffing sites, and one will discover even part-time positions have certain expectations and requirements. Youth leader in small churches, even unpaid leaders are being looked to as a trusted adult with maturity to be able to handle the position. The old stereotype of a young 20-something still in college or fresh out of college young adult, “baby-sitting” the teens in the basement is quickly fading. A qualifying factor to leadership is being able to act in a way fitting the calling. Whether paid, unpaid or even underpaid, professional things like organization, time management, and recruiting a team are all standard parts of being respected and fulfilling the calling.
Youth Ministry needs a qualified educational understanding.
There is a shift in education in the school systems from direct to indirect instruction. Students no longer sit in rows as a teacher teaches from the front of the room. Students are sitting in circles interacting with information and learning in a variety of ways that meet with their diverse learning styles. Youth ministry as well is shifting from preaching to teaching. The old model of a leader upfront at a podium speaking at students is also fading. Youth ministry is an educational role teaching the most important truth of God’s word in relevant and real ways, using effective methods. It is a shift from formal homiletical sermons to informal differentiated lessons. These are more than “talk” however, there still a need for quality in preparation, prayer, and presentation. Students have more access to information than any other generation before them. A misquote or some misinformation can be quickly googled. A youth leader must seek to read, be knowledgeable, and be learners themselves.
Christ himself called his disciples then spent 3 years qualifying through teaching them as their rabbi/teacher. (Luke 6). Leader are learners. A calling does not dismiss the need to learn and continue to learn, formally or informally, in order qualify the leader to be able to teach others (Matt. 28:18-20)
Youth Ministry is lead by qualified spiritual leadership of the generations.
First the Bible does have qualifications for those who are called to leadership. (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, 1 Peter 5:1-4). The idea that God doesn’t call the qualified is a bit of human misinterpretation, in fact it is spelled out Biblically who God calls by offering a New Testament list of spiritual qualification and disqualification of a leader.
Secondly, Youth ministry in order to be effective must be a ministry to more than youth. Parents’ calling in their life is to disciple their own children (Deut. 6), a youth leader’s job is to partner with parents, qualifying them in that calling. The same is also true for qualifying the people of the church for the work of ministry, as they are also called to do so as well. (Eph. 4:11-12).
Youth ministry has the opportunity to have called qualified leaders!
Why I am so excited to partner with Anderson University’s Global Center for Youth Ministry as one of their new Practitioner Fellows is it offering called youth ministry leaders the opportunity to become qualified in their calling! There will soon be opportunities for every leader to understand the legal, professional, educational sides of ministry and have the spiritual training to lead with excellence in their local church.
Dan is a ministry veteran with over 24 years of experience serving in the local church. He has served in church in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Washington DC. He also serves nationally through speaking, writing and ministry coaching. He sits on the national council for the National Network of Youth Ministry. He is the lead content writer for Parent Ministry (www.ministryparents.com) along with being a contributor other great resources like Source4Parents, Download Youth Ministry, and more. He is the founder of Middle Years Ministry (www.middleyearsministry.com) and has just launch MYM Resources (www.mymresource.com).