8 Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Young Pastors

As a life-long churchgoer, mother of two adult daughters (22 and 26) who were raised in church, I share my perspective on young pastors and all pastors who work with young people.

Most of the pastors who have influenced my girls have been young. Student pastors are always young, because that’s who junior high and high school students relate to. Which is great, because these leaders understand the kids’ music, their tastes, likes and dislikes.

There’s a down side.

Here are a few things that I’ve experienced with young pastors that I imagine (hope?) they must someday look back on with embarrassment. I’ve wanted to write this for years, but felt that I needed to be farther removed from the experiences.

Be careful how you speak about childrearing. If your kids are under five, you’re not an expert yet. You can talk about “training up” your children, which is great. And easy when they are five and you have total control. But don’t assume that your training up ensures that their choices will always reflect that training. I’ve got news for y’all — they often don’t. I know scores of parents (some pastors) whose children who have strayed far from the values they were raised with. Yes, you can and should train up your children, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that’s a guarantee. It isn’t.

Don’t judge parents whose children make poor choices. This doesn’t mean they didn’t do everything you’re doing right now with your precious two-year-old who already knows 10 Bible verses from memory. Just wait ’til you hit the teenage years and then let’s chat, OK?

Don’t talk down to parents. I once sat down with a youth minister – not a parent – who acted as if I knew nothing about teenagers. The fact that I had two of them in my home 24/7 apparently taught me nothing. Yes, I know you see a different side of them, but don’t discount what the parents know. After all, we’ve lived a little longer than you.

Don’t reinforce the idea that parents aren’t cool. Kids don’t always think their parents are as uncool as they let on. When you roll your eyes or make cracks about “uncool Mom & Dad,” you encourage disrespect. And I can guarantee that attitude will not facilitate a good relationship with your kids’ parents.

Don’t be unrealistic about spiritual fads. When my girls were in junior high and high school, the anti-dating movement was in full swing (Remember I Kissed Dating Goodbye?). While the young pastors ate this crap up with a spoon, most of us parents understood how ridiculous and unworkable it was. My girls’ dating lives began under this roof, under our watchful eyes, and with our approval and respect for the young men they brought home. I shudder to think of them going off to college never having dated. Also, one of them is happily married to her high school sweetheart now. So you never know.

Don’t be cliquish. I’ve watched kids who really needed mentors and leaders in faith be disenfranchised because they aren’t into basketball, football, or whatever the leader’s favorite sport is. Sure, it’s a great way to connect, but there are other ways than sports. Mathletes are just as important as quarterbacks.

Don’t belittle their interests. Both my daughters were cheerleaders and competed on the national stage. They enjoyed it, and we had some great family times traveling for cheer. One of my girls had a leader who told her that “Cheerleading is stupid, and you should quit.” Seriously.

Male pastors, stop talking about your “smoking hot wife. Seriously, is this how you’d want your daughter’s husband to refer to her? You know the message you’re sending when you say that? Pretty is important, girls, and boys, be sure your wife is pretty and value her for that more than anything. Why not talk about how capable and intelligent your wife is, and teach young boys to respect a woman for more than her looks?

I know this sounds negative, but, we’ve had — and been witness to — some pretty negative experiences with church and young people. Much of it comes from the arrogance of a young pastor fresh out of seminary who believes there really are new things under the sun.

Like a stupid urban legend or bell-bottom jeans, by the time a parent arrives at their kids’ teenage years, we’ve seen and heard a lot of this trendy nonsense come and go at least a couple of times. Let parents be a resource. Listen to them. Respect their wisdom and experience and be willing to learn from those who have been around the bends you haven’t yet arrived at.

This isn’t addressed to any particular young pastor; it’s a composite of the ones we’ve known over the years. 

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