This year my friend Jonathan McKee has become a regular guest blogger on this site and I’m so grateful. I’m away on vacation this week and I asked him to do a 4-part series on what he looks for when hiring a youth pastor! It’s very solid! Jonathan is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

This week we kicked off the 7 Qualities I’m Looking for Hiring a Youth Pastor where I suggested the first quality that churches should look for. Yesterday I provided two more. Today, I continue the list.

4. Big Picture Thinker

Why do you do what you do?

I hope that any youth worker, volunteer or paid, could always answer that question with clarity.

Give it any context—a Wednesday night at a church, for example. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve asked a youth worker, “Why do you do Wednesday nights?” and the answer is something like, “Well, we’ve always done Wednesday nights.”

Churches need to hire a youth pastor who sets a vision, and then determines what ministry models are required to achieve that vision.

So many youth pastors get that bass-ackward. They start with a cookie cutter program and then figure out the “why.”

Mark Oestricher said this well. He told me that he would always look for a youth worker who has “a desire to learn the context and create ministry that makes contextual sense, rather than importing a pre-packaged program idea.” I think that’s also part of the genius behind Doug’s Purpose Driven Youth Ministry it doesn’t begin with a program. It starts with the “why”… “Why are we doing this? Is it evangelism, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, worship? Or, a combo.”

How many churches do you know who have the exact same cultural setting, same economic conditions, same kids, same spiritual needs, same weather, same facilities… need I go on? If a youth pastor ran a small group format on Thursday night’s in one small town, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the same small group format is going to work in a suburban church even just 100 miles away. Instead, this pastor should be able to see why he developed this small group ministry in the first place (maybe a need for spiritual growth and fellowship) and discover a tool or ministry model that might help him accomplish that goal in this new context.

We need youth ministry leaders who can observe and adapt. I often show youth workers this basic video about the six different types of kids we encounter in youth ministry then point to one of the “types of kids” and ask, “How do you reach this kid?”

Does this potential hire understand the difference between outreach and spiritual growth? Do they have the patience to watch and observe a new environment, in search of ministry models that will reach young people for Christ and help believers grow in their faith?

We need to hire big picture thinkers, not cookie-cutter programmers.

5. Discernment

It’s hard to even label this quality. It’s street-smarts mixed with concern and restraint. It’s wisdom mixed with responsibility.

Julie, a youth pastor I met in Michigan last year describes it as the “plans for responsibility and risks that involve working with teens.” She asks, “Do these youth pastors just know how to have fun, or do they know how to protect students while growing with them?”

Yes, wisdom often comes with age. But I’ve met 45-year-old imbeciles who I wouldn’t trust with my goldfish, and 19-year-olds I’d trust my kids with.

I don’t want to be biased, but personally, I almost prefer a youth pastor who has kids of their own. I don’t make this a hard fast rule, but typically, a person with kids of their own thinks a little bit differently before risking the lives of other people’s kids. Youth workers are renowned for sticking 20 kids in a 15 passenger van, breaking speed laws… the list is endless (a few years ago I actually had people send in stories of the stupid mistakes they made in youth ministry) I’m not saying that all youth workers without kids are more dangerous, I just want to see any youth worker showing the same discernment, and even restraint, with their youth group kids as they would with their own kids.

Youth pastors need to show discernment in more than just safety practices. What do they talk about with kids? What music do they play? What topics do they address? How do they address parents? (More about that in my next quality tomorrow)

Some of this comes with experience. I committed a cornucopia of stupid mistakes in my early ministry years that I wouldn’t even fathom committing right now. Years of looking parents in the eyes and having to tell them why their daughter is in the hospital have changed me. Sending 12 people down a snow hill stacked onto one inner-tube just doesn’t seem as fun anymore.

When interviewing a youth pastor, ask:
1.What lessons of discernment and even safety have you learned from your past experiences in youth ministry?
2.What are some ways your tongue has got you in trouble in the past?
3.How have those decisions shaped your choices today?

Churches want to hire someone fun, but with discernment beyond their years.

More qualities coming! Stay tuned in this blog!

Question:What about you?
How can you apply big picture thinking in your own ministry?
What are some hard lessons you’ve learned in the area of discernment? Share your thoughts.

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