Crazy for You(th)

Great youth pastors won't settle for passionless leadership

Maybe it’s because many youth pastors are young. Maybe it’s because they carry a lot of hope for the future. Maybe it’s because youth pastors’ constituency has a long life ahead of them in the church. Maybe it’s because youth pastors take the gospel seriously. Whatever the reason, youth pastors want senior pastors to be passionate about ministry.

You will never be able to keep a youth pastor if you don’t lead and challenge her. Great youth pastors will not settle for passionless ministry or passionless leadership. They know that church staff members who are “mailing it in” can become barriers to church growth, and that senior pastors who aren’t willing to take risks harm the future of the church.

If you, as the senior pastor, are in a place where you’re unwilling to make significant changes, you need to inform your youth pastor candidates of that before you hire them. I don’t mean to suggest that a senior pastor without passion for the gospel is a good thing. But I recognize that there are pastors who mail in their last few years in ministry for the pension. If you already have a youth pastor on staff, you need to be open and honest about your reluctance to change so that she can understand why it’s difficult for you to support some of her ideas.

The heart of passion isn’t emotional enthusiasm; it’s sacrifice. Born in the cross, it’s a call to radical, faithful living. Youth pastors want to make a difference in the kingdom and are willing to risk a lot to see it happen. They want to live for something worth dying for.

Too often the church inoculates teenagers and staff to this passion by expecting them to fall in line and “be nice.” If that describes your church, you should consider it a success when teenagers leave your church after graduation. Churches will be held accountable for inoculating young people to the gospel’s true power and sending them into adulthood without faith.

Passionless churches teach students that Jesus is a supplement to accomplish their own purposes in the world. Want to get them into a good college? Add a little Jesus, be a good person and presto! Need a spouse? That high-paying job? The way of Jesus becomes a morale boost to become all you want to be. Churches with such environments seek to make good citizens who don’t rock the boat and are generally nice people.

The question regarding your church is this: Why would a high school student want to come? Is there an obvious reason a teenager would go out of his way to join your congregation? Duty isn’t an acceptable answer.

To put it another way: How good is your good news?

Friends, gimmicks, events, pizza and games are fun for a while. But kids are looking for good news—gospel truth. Will they find it in your church? Will they find it in your programs, people, structure, hope and passion? Will they find a simplified and tamed gospel reduced to four spiritual laws? Or will they find a wild, dangerous, mysterious, expansive gospel that engages all of life?

Is the gospel still dangerous and immanent for you as a pastor? If the answer is yes, share your passion with your youth pastor and students. They need to see your passion, however you and your personality best exemplify it.

If the answer is no, you have a choice. You don’t have to “mail it in” until you reach retirement age. Take a break or a sabbatical. Find someone you trust to talk to about it. Take action. Finish strong. Discover what it’s like to rekindle the passion of God within you. The process of transformation in you may be what your church needs most.


Mark Riddle is owner of the Riddle Group (, a ministry coaching and consulting firm. Adapted from Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors (Zondervan) by Mark Riddle. Used by permission of the publisher.


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