by Rev. Samantha Hassell

Samantha is the Associate Pastor of Youth & Christian Education at Dyersburg Cumberland Presbyterian Church and has served the Cumberland Presbyterian Church as a Youth Pastor and Christian Educator since 2001.

Dear Small Church Youth Worker,

I see you.  I see you squeezing every penny of your tight budget.  I see you making and reusing many of your supplies.  I see your influence and service and work extending beyond the youth ministry because it just needs to. I see you wondering if your position will make the budget next year. I see you side-hustling.  I even see you questioning your worth, or the worth of your ministry, because it can be hard not to.  

I see you because I am you.  I have been a youth pastor in a small denomination, and in small churches (approximately 100 members) for my 22 years in ministry.  I have waited anxiously in the Fall to see if the youth pastor position would make the next year’s budget; I have read between the lines of the reports that say “If giving does not increase by *specified date* we must eliminate a staff position,” and known it was the youth position because the Senior Pastor position won’t be eliminated!  I have felt the guilt of wondering if it is my position straining the church budget; the sting of knowing the importance of youth ministry but of also knowing that a church can only do what what it is able to do.  I have even absorbed the comments like “My daughter’s church has volunteers who lead the youth and they do just fine.” And I’m sure they do!  Volunteers are key to a strong youth ministry – but when your call is vocational youth ministry, it hurts to have others not understand that as they imply that you could just volunteer your time. 

Here’s what else I see though:  I see you able to build strong and intentional relationships; to create a space that is fun and loud while also being intimate;

I see you knowing, really knowing, each young person who enters your ministry. 

I see you able to build strong relationships with their parents.  I see you honing those creativity and leadership skills because when you wear several hats, it is necessary.  Do those things happen within the context of larger churches and ministries?  Of course they do!  But it is different – I know, dear small church youth worker, of the unique ways you work to get ‘er done!  

I have experienced the joy of affirmation when parents have wept as they have thanked me for helping their young person navigate the tough stuff; when volunteers have continued in ministry when my tenure ended, carrying on many of the traditions set in place; the gift of influencing other parts of the church’s ministries so that by the time a kid enters the youth room, they already know and trust me because I have served them in VBS or tween classes.  I see the unique challenges and joys that come with serving a smaller church.

And be assured:  it is not just me who sees and knows.  Your young people see and they are different because of your presence in their lives. 

Their parents see and are grateful to have you influencing the faith of their teenagers (and on a really good day they even tell you so!).  Your volunteer team sees and is learning so much from you about how to create and sustain a strong youth ministry (because know this: “strong” is not only defined by attendance). And most importantly, the God who has called you to this good work sees and blesses your small-church-ministry.  

So hang in there!  Continue in the good work God has called and prepared you for and be grateful for the joy of a small-church ministry planting seeds that will grow and spread into sweetness for Christ’s kingdom.