Going Deep and Increasing Numbers


I feel like I have had this conversation no less than one hundred times, feels more like a thousand.

Youth workers who are doing the best they can. ANd yes, I get it, there are youth workers who need more training or better time management or possibly to consider another path in life.  Regardless, they are doing the best they can in that moment but they have no idea what priority to pursue.

They are told to offer something deep, something of substance in response to Chris Smith’s Moral Therapeutic Deism. The pendulum has swung (if their pastor or committee has at all read Soul Searching) and they freak out. They want depth and solid teaching. Curriculum in the youth ministry world came dangerously close to dropping the trinity altogether and embracing a Jesus only perspective, if not officially, functionally in response to MTD.

Before youth workers can process this high calling, they are reminded that numbers are what is key to them keeping their job. That without teens present, there is no reason to pay them for ministry. Then come the weird expectations of 20+ hours/week of facetime in the office, to only cooperate with other youth pastors from their same tradition and to be certain that they are connecting all over the community. (Even though none of the other pastors have this requirement.)

The conversation to which I am referring begins with “how do I do both, go deep and invest in the teens I have AND please my pastor, committee and be involved in every possible outreach/incarnational option available”? All too often it is ending with “how do I get out”?

Talented, young Jesus loving leaders not only need to have balance modeled for them, they need to be told it is OK, actually good for them too. We have set a standard that says if you don’t give your very life (and too often this means your personal life, your marriage, healthy relationships with your own kids, etc.) that you can’t possibly be doing God’s work. I also hear from many of them working 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet and being told they are too materialistic or don’t have their priorities straight. How silly they are, health insurance is such a luxury not to mention your own car and home.

I have never been a senior pastor, don’t ever plan to be. What I do know is that teenagers are vital in the kingdom. That God loves them dearly and it is a slap in God’s face to not care for them with equally as much devotion and intentionality as we do adults. (I could say the same for children but that’s another day.) I am grateful for the many senior pastors who get this. They are a light of hope that others will too. I just wish they would talk with their other senior pastor friends.

So I am curious, how would you answer the questions about going deep AND increasing numbers? What is the balance? What are practical steps that have worked and which ones were smoke and mirrors?

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About Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober (PhD, Fuller Seminary) is a youth ministry veteran with ministry and teaching experience. She focuses on practical theology, urban ministry, theology & disability, and marginalized communities. She is a volunteer youth worker in her church and community, lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects and serves on the Young Life Capernaum national board. In her free time she can be found playing with her three young children, husband, and oversized dog.