The changing possibilities for the profession of youth ministry
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” (1)

The Issue:

Could it be that the purveyors of youth ministry education are becoming more and more proficient at preparing youth ministers for a profession that may not exist in 20 or 30 years?
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that an increasing number of churches may find themselves unable to afford what has become a “normal” full-time youth pastor, leaving churches and youth pastors scrambling for alternative ways of providing Christian nurture for teenagers.  To that end, we offer a modest proposal for those responsible for training the next generation of youth workers: Taking a page from pastors in the two-thirds of the world who are educated not simply in traditional, theological disciplines but in sustainable farming as well, those being trained for the profession of youth ministry can be trained in at least one income-producing discipline as well.  What would happen if we invited the youth pastor of the future to “love two things,” both ministry and another vocation?  In addition, a broad introduction to entrepreneurship could be a required part of the preparation for ministry as well.
We might question whether such an arrangement might dilute the impact of a youth ministry professional.  But it is just as likely that a “part-time” youth pastor might more easily be freed from the illusion that his or her primary vocation is to take responsibility for building personal, nurturing relationships with every youth in his or her ministry.
Having bi-vocational youth ministers could produce the following results:

  • Youth pastors staying longer in ministry because their second profession provides increased opportunities for income generation to provide for the increased needs of their families as their children get older
  • Youth pastors experiencing a healthy detachment from their ministries; their ministries no longer being all-consuming
  • A dramatic decrease in complaining about money that has become so commonplace among youth pastors
  • Lay people in the church increasingly seeing “theological education” as something that Christians do, not something that only full-time, professional ministers do
  • The impetus to a richer theology of work

The youth pastor of the future will need to be nimble and fleet of foot, knowing that the requirements of his or her position are likely to morph significantly each year.  As churches embrace the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion, they may become more uncomfortable with the sharp age-segmentation of ministries from child to youth to young adult.  In these churches, the traditional role of the youth pastor may be tweaked or phased out in preference to ministry entrepreneurs, able to respond creatively to the predictably unexpected changes within the church, within the surrounding culture, and within adolescents themselves.
Possible Resources:

  • It is possible that partnerships could be formed with apprenticeship programs for a variety of vocational skills, from everything from carpentry, plumbing, and computer repair to on-line sales, accounting, and writing.

Other Views:

  • Bag youth ministry in favor of the church nurturing and being nurtured by youth
  • Bag youth ministry in favor of family ministry
  • A full-time job and a part-time ministry position? Ever tried that? I have. It leaves little time for family, rest, etc.
  • Isn’t this going back to Christian Education Directors?
  • Why have “youth pastors” at all? Why aren’t all pastors trained to call out and equip others in the church to fill this role?
  • Provocative paradigm not practical for many personality types and in communities where jobs of any kind are already scarce.
  • Love the healthy detachment from their ministries
  • Theology of vocation rooted in baptism rather than in employment
  • One vocation, other many opportunities for income sources


  • Can we preemptively downshift current youth ministries given fewer resources anticipated?
  • Is there really such a thing as part-time ministry?
  • Are those formally trained in youth ministry producing better results than those who are not formally trained?
  • Will this really lead to healthier youth workers or just tired ones?
  • Have we ever determined that youth ministry education makes a big difference?
  • Does youth ministry training need to leave the academy and move to a “vocational education” model?
  • Is “bi-vocational” the right nomenclature?
  • How can we help youth workers make six figure incomes and stay in ministry?
  • Do people need $100K?

Possible Solutions:

  • Young Life/teacher staff
  • One answer could be equipping volunteers to allow students to develop additional important relationships.
  • There already seems to be a possible model for this in the church-planting world.
  • Think about piloting these ideas through CYMT and/or Duke MA in Christian Practices program.
  • Partnering with social entrepreneur educators

Train and Educate:

  • Ministers who serve with youth need skills that will allow them to serve the adult population of the church as well:
  1. Methods of teaching
  2. Faithful outreach
  3. Development of liturgy
  4. Pastoral care
  • You don’t learn how to do ministry in seminary but seminary is still legit and important
  • Train church leaders to pay full-time workers properly

Existing Resources:

(1) Hoffer, Eric, Reflections on the Human Condition (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 22.