You readers probably know I don’t think very highly of the youth pastors I had while growing up.
To be fair, it’s not necessarily their fault. Youth ministry wasn’t their specialty. They went to school to learn to shepherd adults, not kids; they didn’t know squat about child psychology, or any psychology; and the church didn’t give them the freedom to really lead us properly. Plus, at that time in my life, I was an awful kid. Still, knowing what I know now, I can look back and conclude that yeah, they really didn’t know what they were doing.
So I wrote a poem about it. Like to hear it? Here goes.
I was all of eleven when Father sat down
And directed me right to his side,
And the gloom in his eyes had awakened my fear
That I’d sinned—he was after my hide.
“No it’s not that,” he said, “but whatever that was—
Well, we’ll talk about that once again.
No, it’s something more difficult I must discuss
Since you’re now at an age over ten.
“In this next year, you’ll go into (gasp) junior high
And the misery found in those grades.
And you’ll look to the church for what comfort you can…
But you’ll only find sports and charades.”
“I don’t follow,” I said. “Well you see,” said my dad,
“In the sixth grade you’re known as a Youth.
Not a boy, so no Sunday School class anymore.
Therefore now I must tell you the truth.
“Son, a Youth is distracted by things of this world:
What is ‘cool,’ what is stylish, or ‘it.’
If the church can’t keep up, we may lose you for good.
So we altered our standards a bit.
“First, we parents abandoned our leadership roles
Because kids don’t respect us as ‘cool.’
And since that is their standard for leadership, we
Have adopted this ‘cool’ as our rule.
“But we found that they just won’t accept us as cool.
This is odd, and we can’t figure why.
We said all the same slang and we wear the same clothes!
Yet the Youth think it’s odd, or a lie.
“So our church sought a person authentically cool—
One the Youth would accept and obey—
Thus we hired a Youth Leader to do the job
And instruct them to go the right way.
“First, he tries to determine what’s ‘cool’ with the kids.
Then he tailors himself to their fad.
In this way, he’ll distract them back into the church!
—But my son, his theology’s bad.
“See, to find us a leader the Youth will accept,
Our church hired a leader so young
That he’s barely emerged from his own Youth himself.
So he’s lacking in wisdom, and dumb.
“His poor brain was quick-crammed with theology from
All those schools he’s so fresh from. And so
He’s been shown each historical route Christians take,
But he hasn’t a clue where to go.
“In this state, he is hardly a leader of men.
(He’s half heretic, to tell the truth.)
We can’t trust him to deal with maturity well.
So… we put him in charge of the Youth.
“Now my son, I’ve discipled you. You know your stuff.
So I must warn you way in advance
Of the sort of Youth Leader we’ve hired to lead.
He’s a risk, but we’re taking a chance.
“See, the first guy we hired was a bit of a nut.
He drove out thirty kids with his ways!
He told them, ‘If you’re halfhearted, you’ll go to hell!’
Half the Youth group was gone in ten days.
“Then the next one we hired: He’d take in any freak—
Even kids who came in from the slums!
He was hired to babysit our kids, not them!
Now he’s gone, serving meals to those bums.
“The Youth Leader last year was a heck of a guy.
His defect was that he was too wise.
He got picked as lead pastor in some other church.
We can’t hold on to quality guys.
“Now the current Youth Leader is not like the rest.
Sure, his reasoning isn’t quite sound,
But the elders got sick of debating the rest,
And this guy… they can push him around.
“So at times he might tell you you’re going to hell,
Or he’ll threaten you till you obey.
He might frappé the culture with things of the Lord.
So watch out for some things that he’ll say.
“When you have any questions, please go to your mom
Or to me; we will both help you out.
Yeah, you won’t find us ‘cool’ enough. We understand.
’Cause it’s why our church hired that lout.”
“I don’t get it,” I told Dad. “Have you put my Youth
In the hands of a heretic, Dad?
If he’s kind of a fool, as I think you’ve described,
The results can be nothing but bad!”
“It was not my idea,” said Father to me.
“But I think we can yet see God’s plan.
Every Youth must determine for her or himself—
In the most honest way that they can—
“Whether they’ll be a Christian, or they’ll turn away.
And the thing which provokes them the best
Is the garbage the Youth Leader feeds them each week.
It’s the ultimate form of a test.
“He will frustrate them, force them to really seek God,
And maturity will have been won!
—Or they’ll chuck the whole system as stupid and weird,
And we’ll have one less hypocrite, son.”
So I went through the Youth program in my teen years,
And the Youth leaders came, and went on,
And the things which some taught would send them to the stake
If they’d taught them in 1301.
In the end, it turned out like my dad has foreseen:
Many Youths turned away from the flock.
But a few realized God was here nonetheless,
And that Jesus was always our rock.
But what always nags at me is one little thing:
Is this really the best Youth can get?
Are Youth destined to follow each flake, loon, or nut
When adults can’t be led by them yet?
There has got to be better than this for our Youth.
For our Youth, after all, are the church.
It’s not will be, but are. This the adults ignore,
And abandon the Youth in the lurch.
Now, to all the exceptions: God bless you. You’re great.
And to all the good leaders: Fight on!
And to everyone else: Please consider this fact.
Why are so many former Youth gone?