I was asked recently why/how I got into youth ministry. I told him clearly it was for the money!

After we had a good hearty laugh (sigh), I described how my great youth ministry experience as a student and in particular thinking my youth pastor was super cool got me thinking about getting into the ministry for myself. Besides giving him the Sunday school answer of “because God told me to” these were definitely catalysts the Lord used to make his calling me into ministry much more clear as I graduated high school.

This answer, however, spurred another question. He said, “You seem like a guy who students would think is cool, but you’re also a young guy. Will your coolness expire as you get older?”

I told him confidently that love, care, presence, and availability for students and a passion for God will always make me cool. It’s not about my clothes (lame), my knowledge of Justin Bieber or Kate Upton trivia (lacking), or my taste in movies and TV (vastly superior). It’s about pursuing God and being willing to engage students so they can do the same. I told him there were tons of youth pastors in their 40’s and 50’s and even more volunteers that age and older. It was a great opportunity to share the awesomeness of youth workers, especially the veterans!

I only hope I can be an effective youth worker 20 years from now and not take the sucker bait to accept the demotion to adult ministry… Well, unless God tells me to.

Matt Johnston is the High School Pastor at Journey of Faith in Manhattan Beach, CA. If you’re into it, you can check him out on twitter here and he blogs occasionally here. Also, be praying for him as he’s a Dodgers fan and baseball season is about to start. It will be a rough 6 months.

Youth Ministry at Age 40

 —  September 9, 2011 — 9 Comments

I was asked to answer a few questions for a friend’s upcoming book on veteran youth ministry. While I’m not quite 40 yet (give me a few years and I’ll get there), I thought the questions were great and a fun chance to reflect on youth ministry from a little further down the road:

Name some things you can do at 40 that you could never have done at 20. Being 36 … I take a little offense to this question. But I do have a growing “black list” of things I’ll never do in youth ministry again. And I definitely do things differently 15 years in. The most exciting thing I can do with this age and experience is assure students that “I’ve seen it all” – they can share whatever is going on in there life and I won’t be shocked. I think I’ve heard of, dealt directly with, and am prepared for whatever mess students can make with their lives. I don’t think I could have said that in my earlier years.

What are some things you know at 40 that you wish you has known at 20. I think I can see now how rich and rewarding long-term youth ministry is – I think as a young youth pastor I saw the day-to-day pain of senior pastor relationships, poor time management and students screwing up their lives to appreciate the perspective of the wise old Yoda that I am now. Ha. Look like Yoda, I do, wise I am not.

What are some things you no longer do at 40 that you used to do at 20. The obvious answer is overnighters … but we still do those on occassion and honestly I look down on youth workers who refuse to do them. Just kidding. I think I used to worry more about keeping my job when I was 20, I used to worry more about how God would provide for my family. I used to worry about making everyone happy. I used to worry about … well, everything. I wonder sometimes if I should worry MORE now than I do, because I don’t anymore.

What are the benefits of growing older and remaining in youth ministry? I think there’s a certain credibility that comes of age. I think you don’t strive to be cool, you just want to care. I think there’s a rewarding aspect to mentoring other youth leaders that is really exciting. Most of all, it is seeing the teenage lives that God changed now grown up and doing His work. Some you thought would be incredible are … others flamed out. Some you prayed for but gave up on came back to Him and He did some amazing things with them. Who knew? Fun to see it from a few years down the road.