When I first started in youth ministry I was very green and interned at a church in Southern California. We took a group of students to a leadership conference and needed 2 vans for the trip. I drove one and the youth pastor drove the other. As we loaded up to go from the hotel to the conference my van had a longer line and the students started to argue over who would ride in my van. The youth pastor and I chuckled at the situation and then he said “Man, I guess I am just getting too old for this… you are the young cool guy now”. I am pretty sure that the 28 year old youth pastor was joking when he said that but I think it is a very accurate picture of how many people view youth workers. Youth ministry is a young person’s ministry and in order to be effective at it you have to be a young person. If you are a volunteer we only want you if you are young, and if you are the youth pastor you better get in and do good ministry while you are young because you have an expiration date on your effectiveness. Unfortunately, that is the stereotype that youth ministry has. Luckily, this idea is completely FALSE!
There is no age limit to being a youth worker. God does not give someone a passion for students and put an expiration date on their service. If God has called you to serve students that calling can be fulfilled at age 19, age 40, or age 70. Yes, students do want to relate to their youth workers but relating to students doesn’t mean that you have to skateboard with them or play on their tackle football team. Relating to students comes from taking an interest in their lives, listening to them, and loving on them.
There is no right age but there is a right HEART. The issue is not that a youth worker is ‘too old’ but rather that many older youth workers have closed off their heart in some ways. Sometimes our desires, traditions and what makes us comfortable take precedence over a love for students and a desire to reach them regardless of what it takes. When someone truly loves students they have a heart for them over tradition and realize that what the students like they personally might not like. But that is okay because their heart is for the student and his or her relationship with God.
I talked with a youth worker the other day with 25 years of service in youth ministry. She told me that over the last few years things have really declined in her ministry and she has no clue why. She said she didn’t know what to do and asked if maybe she was just getting too old to be effective. Personally, I do not think she is too old for youth ministry but what I do think is that she needs to understand that what worked 20 years ago might not work now. She needs to do what it takes to reach students now because youth ministry is not about us it is about God and reaching students for Him. A heart that desires to reach lost students for Christ no matter what it takes is a golden tool in youth ministry no matter what age the youth worker is.
This picture really describes the heart of a youth worker best. I took this picture in of the rooms at our “Man Nite” youth event.
This picture speaks 1000 words. This is one of my most faithful volunteers (who also happens to be in his 70s) hanging out on a Friday night at 10pm watching a student play a game called “Assassin’s Creed”. Now, I guarantee you that this 70+ year old dude doesn’t play PS3, doesn’t play Assassin’s Creed, doesn’t even like the idea of Assassin’s Creed. But he does have a heart for students and he genuinely cares about them. He sat for 30+ minutes showing interest in what this student was interested in, not because he was, but because he sees God’s heart for students and realizes the impact that can be made on students’ lives by caring for them as God cares for them.
There is no age limit to being a youth worker. But there is a heart requirement that is stopping people of all ages from being an effective youth worker. God wants to do amazing things through you as a youth worker regardless of your age. All you have to do is share His heart for reaching lost students and guiding them into a real relationship with Him.