After three years without an associate pastor, my church finally hired a new one. He’s a former intern from my congregation that I genuinely respect and enjoy working with. He’s also young, cute, and far cooler than I am (or ever hope to be).
Part of our new associate pastor’s job description, as presented to our congregation at the meeting in which we voted on him, is “youth”. As the person who serves as my church’s youth worker, this struck me as odd. Isn’t that my job?
Because of this (and a few other things), our associate’s first few weeks in his role were rough for me – especially since he kept showing up at my youth ministry events. (Mind you, he always asked first but nevertheless, despite being in youth ministry for 15 years – 9 in my current context – his constant presence still made me feel insecure.) I wondered, “The next time our congregation has a budget shortfall, will my job be eliminated because people will think our new associate pastor can do it?”
My insecurities grew until they finally reached a boiling point.
For about a week in late April, I seriously contemplated quitting.
But then early in May, our associate pastor asked to meet with me. He was doing one-on-one’s with each of our staff members and my turn had come. So I sat down with him.
He asked me good questions – about what I need from him; how he can be supportive of me and my ministry; where our congregation is at; and my worries and concerns about the future of our congregation.
As I listened to his questions, I realized our associate pastor had no idea how much I was struggling – not because he’s oblivious (he’s a pysch major who’s actually really aware of other people’s emotions) – but because I’d carefully hidden my frustrations from him.
In that moment, I made a choice. I shared (rather vulnerably) about how hard his transition had been for me. I named my fears and told him that I feared his presence would ultimately cost me my job.
After a moment of stunned silence, he said this: “I don’t want to be the youth pastor, Jen. I want to be the youth’s pastor.”
That one comment has made all the difference for me, helping me to realize that our new associate is not after my job; He’s simply trying to be the best pastor he can be.
What a gift it is to have a pastor who wants to pastor not just the adults in our congregation, but the youth as well.
What a gift it is to have a pastor who’s supportive of the work I do in our youth ministry and who wants to participate in it simply to build relationships with the teens and show his support of me.
Years ago, I interviewed youth ministry expert Chap Clark for a Youth Worker Journal Roundtable. I no longer remember what we were even talking about, but I do remember this. Chap talked about the importance of reversing the 5:1 youth ministry ratio. Rather than have one adult for every five students, Chap urged youth workers to find five adults to invest in every teenager in your congregation.
This comment deeply resonated with me and ever since then, I’ve been trying to achieve it.
What a gift it now is to have an associate pastor who I can count among the five adults pouring into the teens in our congregation, who knows more about our teens than their names, who’s listening to their stories, sharing in their doubts, and investing in them and our youth ministry.
Our teens, our congregation, and our community will all reap the benefits of this.