Why youth ministers need to embrace youth work practices: Youth ministry in the 21st century.

A while back I was reading a blog post by Mark Oestreicher, A youth pastor from the USA. In it he states that youth pastors need a title change. They should be known as youth workers. This comment made me both uncomfortable and elated at the same time. Uncomfortable as it brings youth ministry into a realm that took me over a decade to learn and thousands of dollars in university subjects without the need for them to gain training or experience. Elated because the more complex society becomes the more the average youth pastor will experience issues which they traditionally have not been trained for… and youth worker brings with it a sense of training. It does make us ask questions about our identity.
I have recently had conversations with youth minister friends of mine who disagrees with Mark. They believed that the average church youth ministry did not regularly come across young people experiencing issues such as homelessness, substance misuse and family violence. They believed that the closest that a youth minister comes to doing youth work is program development and perhaps mentoring. My colleague and I had a long conversation and suffice it to say I disagree.

My first sermon December 2004
A number of years ago I had a similar conversation with the leading youth minister at one of the largest denominations in Victoria. In the conversation he said that the average church did not want their young people exposed to poor, homeless or prisoners. Guys I am sorry but the bible that I read said that was exactly who we were supposed to hang out with. This conversation is one of the reasons I moved from traditional youth ministry to youth work.
That being said, a number of my youth ministry colleagues would also gawk at this vision of youth ministry. They spend their time with young people in detention centres, running advocacy campaigns and feeding the hungry. Many of the youth ministers deal with family breakdown, issues of homelessness and provide outreach in their community. In Melbourne though it seems the average youth ministry course has not prepared them to do this. They have had to learn on the fly and live by faith.

Leading a camp for children of prisoners in 2007


The 21st century youth minister needs to embrace their call and learn some youth work. The average church youth worker could do with a good dose of youth work theory. Perhaps a bit on youth participation and engagement or a bit of outreach and relationship building. They could do with a good dose of practice wisdom in drug and alcohol, program development and mental health. If church based youth workers are serious about being a resource in their community, schools and churches then its time to come into the 21st century. Young people are not turning to their minister for support any more because the average youth minister is not there, willing to step into the breach or trained to do it.

Youth Ministry in the 21st century is now and will become more challenging into the future. It is the person who recognises now the need for ongoing professional development and further training that will become the ultimate youth worker. This means that  bible colleges have a responsibility to teach their students more than before about young people and youth ministry students have a responsibility to seek out more about young people and how to work with them. Youth ministers must become more… they must become youth workers.

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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