For many teenagers, the road from adolescence to adulthood is paved with depression, abuse, inadequacy, uncertainty, peer pressure, sex, and a world of temptation that parents often struggle to understand.
Youth pastors are called to share the gospel on that road, walking with kids through some of life’s biggest hurdles.
The challenges of pastoral ministry take new shapes in relationships with kids, and as a result, being a youth pastor requires some unique qualities. You won’t find the title mentioned in the Bible, but Scripture still has a lot to say to youth pastors.
Here are 28 Bible verses on some of the responsibilities of a youth pastor:
1. Building relationships with parents
Win trust in small ways
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” —Luke 16:10 (NIV)
When you work with kids, your relationships with their parents can make or break your ministry. Bad relationships with parents cripple your ministry by cutting off your access to the youth you’re discipling. One of the biggest ways you can earn a parent’s trust is to keep them informed about everything that’s going on. Who, what, where, when, how, and why are all details a teenager may forget to pass along to their parents—they can even forget when they need their parents to drive them to your event.
Despite kids’ constant battle for independence, parents are ultimately the decision makers. Even parents who aren’t particularly involved in the lives of their kids will notice if you make a point of keeping them in the loop.
Don’t let kids tell you they can go to an event or spend time with you until you know they’ve asked their parents.
Encourage parents to get involved
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”—Romans 12:6–8 (NIV)
If you don’t ask parents for help, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to develop relationships with them—not to mention free labor. Parents may not know what you’re doing or what it takes to pull it off, which makes it easy for them to assume they have nothing to offer. (Just because they don’t ask doesn’t mean they don’t want to help.)
Create a list of ways parents can get involved—without annoying their kids—and when you meet parents, let them know they can help if they want to. The offer itself may help parents feel safer entrusting you with their kids.
When parents get involved, they see “behind the scenes” of what you’re doing with their kids without feeling nosy or overbearing. You’ll get the benefit of extra hands, and they’ll feel like they have a reason to be there (or at least an excuse for when their kids ask why they aren’t leaving).
Not sure what you need help with yet? Build a list of parents who want to be involved and collect their contact information. (Pro tip: only gather information you will actually use.) Then when you need help, you know who to call.
Some things you might want parents for: driving for an event, snacks, driving, setup or cleanup, driving, chaperoning, oh, and driving.
2. Teaching Scripture to teens
Admit when you don’t know the answer
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” —2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
It’s okay to tell a teenager, “I don’t know,” sometimes. You might feel like the admission makes you somehow inadequate, but it doesn’t—it makes you human. And that’s something kids need to see in a leader, too. Omniscience isn’t a burden humans—even really good pastors—were ever made to bear.
You may also find that responding with less certainty gives you more context for the conversation. A kid may be more willing to share why they’re asking the question if you don’t instantly take a stand on the answer.
When kids ask questions you don’t have an answer to, it offers a great opportunity to show them what you do when you have questions. You could even commit to exploring the question together. Point them to biblical scholars, show them a variety of perspectives or methods, and let their doubts lead them to a fuller understanding of what it means to follow Christ.
You’re making disciples, not trying to win a Bible trivia competition.
Help kids connect the Bible to their lives
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” —1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
1 Peter 3:15 is often at the core of Christian apologetics. But preparing to give a reason for the hope you have isn’t just about memorizing facts or building counterarguments to defend your faith against opposing worldviews. It’s about learning how to tell your story in the context of the story. When a kid can point to how God has affected their personal life, it makes a far more compelling “reason” than faith in one side of a constantly evolving debate—no matter how infallible the facts may seem.
Give kids opportunities to share their testimonies with each other, with leaders, or on their own in a journal. Ask questions to help them explore the ways in which the Bible is alive and active in their lives (Hebrews 4:12). Getting comfortable talking about the story of their faith equips kids to share the gospel and roots their lives in their relationship with Christ.
Don’t be discouraged when kids don’t believe the Bible
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” —Matthew 13:19 (NIV)
It’s easy to feel like when a kid doesn’t believe the Bible, you’ve failed as a youth pastor. But whether or not a kid accepts the infallibility of Scripture is not your responsibility. Presenting the gospel accurately and faithfully (in both your message and your life) is the only part you can control. The Holy Spirit is the one who actively works on kids’ hearts and uses the words you speak.
If you feel guilty or ashamed because of a kid’s lack of faith, release yourself from that burden. Give it to God (Matthew 11:28–30, Philippians 4:6–7).
You never get to choose how someone else responds to the gospel.
But that doesn’t excuse you to share the gospel poorly. A picketer may believe that a “Turn or burn” sign is simply “sharing the truth,” but if people don’t come running to repentance, it’s not always a sign that the seed has fallen on the path. As a youth pastor, you get to plant the seed, or water it, and God makes it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6–9). But if you plant weeds, God has to pull them out before anything else can grow.
Use language kids understand
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” —1 Corinthians 2:1 (NIV)
The kids in your youth group need to know that the gospel is for them. Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life, went so far as to say, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.”
If kids don’t understand what you’re saying to them, you’re not communicating the message you meant to. In Young Life, the target audience of every message is the kid who is least familiar with the Bible. You may not need to do that in your church, but it’s absolutely worth acknowledging that the Bible (and Christianity) is full of words kids won’t encounter anywhere else. And if you have to spend as much time explaining Old English as you do explaining the gospel, it might be time to put down the KJV (just for a minute).
And no, this doesn’t mean you have to say everything in memes.
3. Making disciples in the youth group
Don’t let your ministry become about you
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” —1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)
I have a friend who immediately captures the attention of any room he enters. His laugh is infectious and he’s delightfully outgoing. When he was a youth ministry director, kids couldn’t help but want to be around him. He made kids feel loved, and he passionately shared the gospel. But when he left, so did they.
You are in a position of authority, and probably, you have godly qualities people easily recognize. Maybe you’re even funny. Kids are automatically going to look up to you, and some of them will inevitably see you as the epitome of all that is holy. Remind them that you’re not by pointing to the one who is.
4. Helping kids navigate life
Help kids see challenges as opportunities
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” —James 1:2–3 (NIV)
Being a Christian doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it may have the opposite effect—taking up your cross isn’t supposed to be comfortable (Matthew 16:24). But Scripture tells us that when life gets hard, there are things we can learn and ways we can grow that won’t happen when life is easy.
When I was in high school, it took a serious injury for me to see that I’d made wrestling into my idol. Later, it took a break up for me to realize I was in an unhealthy relationship—and I’d made that an idol, too.
It may not be appropriate to point to James when someone is in the middle of their pain (you’ll probably be better off living out Romans 12:15). But if you talk about the challenges you’ve faced in your own life and what God has taught you through them, you can invite kids to process their own lives through that same lens.
Some kids may still find comfort in the knowledge that “there’s a lesson in here, somewhere,” but sometimes it’s easier to start by helping them examine experiences they’ve already grown through. Once you have a few examples to point back to, it’s easier to trust that James 1:1–2 is true for future challenges, too.
Don’t turn Scripture into platitudes
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Kids look to you for guidance. If you treat Bible verses like band-aids or prescribe them like pills, you’re selling Scripture short and you may wind up hurting kids more than helping them. It’s tempting to offer up verses like Romans 8:28 when we don’t understand what God is doing behind the scenes, but Scripture is too complicated to plop into a conversation and then walk away. Is this verse suggesting that God causes all bad things to happen, or simply that he works through them? Are you digging into what “the good of those who love him” might really mean?
When you give verses the context they deserve, they look less and less like platitudes, and more and more like wisdom we can explore together.
5. Preparing teens for college, work, and life
Know your kids
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” —1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV)
Kids crave to be known. If you can’t even remember their names, it’s pretty hard to argue that you care about them in more than some abstract “I love everyone” sort of way. Get to know their struggles, their dreams, their families, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Then as you teach and disciple them, you can help them see what the Bible has to say to them, not just what the Bible says to everyone.
Help teenagers live out their faith
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” —Ephesians 4:14 (NIV)
As a youth pastor, you get to equip local teens to use their gifts and serve people in the name of Christ throughout the world (Ephesians 4:11–13). Whether they go to college, head into the workforce, travel abroad, or otherwise move on, kids are going to encounter other worldviews and perspectives that collide with the Christianity you showed them. When kids discover their place within the body of Christ, they can fulfill that role without you. And then, even the most compelling new worldviews will have trouble dismantling their faith.
6. Building teams
Pray for more youth leaders
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'” —Matthew 9:37–38 (NIV)
You can ask people to become leaders all you want, but if God isn’t already at work in their circumstances and stirring the desire in their hearts, you’re going to be hard pressed to find the right people. Ask God to start the process before you even begin building a list of potential new leaders. Ask him to help you build your list. Ask him to create the right environments for you to approach people about your ministry.
This also goes for donors, support people, worship leaders, and any other role that your ministry leans on to share the gospel with kids.
7. Building community
Share life with kids
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” —Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
Tell kids about things that are actually bothering you right now. Tell them about times you’ve screwed up big time. Tell them about questions you’ve had about God. Tell them what you were like when you were their age. Let them get to know your family. If their parents are comfortable with it, spend time with them outside of your youth group. Talk to them about life. Relationships. Family. Work. School.
As you share life with kids, you’ll become well acquainted with the ways God is working on them, and the ways you can be praying for them. Sharing about your own life can model the type of relationship you’d like to have with them and help them feel comfortable sharing “behind the scenes” of their lives, too.
8. Planning and organizing events
Think through the logistics
“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” —1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)
Every clumsy transition is a window for you to lose kids’ attention. Kids will always take the opportunity to fill the spaces with conversation—out loud or on their phones—which quickly becomes more important to them than whatever you’re doing next. Smooth transitions not only keep kids’ attention, it reinforces the sense that the whole event is important—everything was carefully prepared in advance.
9. Maintaining integrity
Look at things from a parent’s perspective
“. . . reject every kind of evil.” —1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NIV)
Various translations say “every form,” “every kind,” or “all appearance” of evil. An unfortunate result of your role as a youth pastor is that even the appearance of evil can undermine your ministry. It’s all too easy for a parent to misinterpret what they see or hear or for adolescent humor to eat away at your reputation. You can’t have follow-up conversations with every person who sees you in what may appear to be a compromising position (even something as simple as purchasing alcohol or giving a kid a ride home) and people are going to make assumptions, draw conclusions, and pass judgment—which may translate to kids not coming anymore.
That’s not to say you should let your personal life be ruled by fear of what other people think. But as someone whose ministry depends on the trust of parents, kids, and the community, it’s always worth considering what other people will think, and if it’s appropriate to address their possible concerns upfront. If parents might be worried about their child being alone with you, talk about it. Ask for permission. Even when you’re confident that you’re not actively participating in evil, look at your actions through the eyes of a parent, and be prepared to explain yourself.
Some people use “the pastor test” to determine if something is appropriate: “Would I do/say this in front of my pastor?” As a youth pastor, you get to adopt the parent test. Use it at your discretion.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” —James 3:1 (NIV)
If you’re not receiving any criticism as a youth pastor—from parents, church members, staff, kids, or the community—there’s something fishy going on. You’re in a highly visible leadership position, entrusted with the spiritual development of kids. Your role deserves to be examined thoughtfully and critically because you have a direct impact on the next generation of Christians in your community. Every parent can probably imagine “a better way” to do parts of your job, and some members of your church are bound to find biblical reasons why you should do or say things differently.
Some of that criticism is healthy. It’s accountability. When your ministry is connected to the body of Christ, the ligaments and muscles of that body should always be stretching and working and growing to help you more effectively carry out the mission of the church.
But some of that criticism isn’t constructive. Some people criticize leaders out of frustration, not grace. When criticism starts taking aim at your family or other aspects of your life that aren’t relevant to your role, ask people why they feel the need to share it with you—or ask them to stop. It’s okay to tell people when their criticism is more hurtful than helpful.
10. Community outreach
Teach kids to serve other people
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” —Ephesians 4:11–13 (NIV)
Whenever you plan an event to reach new people, find ways for kids to get involved. The more you know your kids and share life with them, the easier it will be for you to see how they fit into service projects, outreach, and special events at your church. Part of your role as their spiritual leader is to prepare them to use their gifts and teach them how to sacrifice their time and energy for others. You don’t have to give them official titles like “student leader” to let them get more involved—just keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities for kids to serve.
11. Growing spiritually as a youth leader
Keep an open-mind about familiar passages
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” —2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
Context completely changes how we understand Scripture. As you learn new information about the ancient world, Jewish culture, Greek cities, literary devices, and how words are used throughout the Bible, it can (and often should) change how you see familiar passages.
Kids are bound to surprise you with insights of their own, as the Holy Spirit dwelling within them interacts with God’s Word. How you respond to those insights has the power to build a kid up or tear them down. You may even find that God is trying to teach you something through the kids you’re discipling.
Spiritual growth requires you to balance staying rooted in truth and allowing new information to water those roots.
12. Setting a godly example for teens
Be vulnerable about your flaws
“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” —Luke 6:40 (NIV)
This verse wasn’t intended to be a flattering portrayal of the impact of teachers. It’s nestled between Jesus’ parable of the blind leading the blind and the man with a plank in his eye.
When you ignore your flaws as a youth pastor, it has a dangerous impact on the kids you lead. They will follow you into the pit. They will ignore the plank in their own eye. Being transparent about your struggle against sin helps kids see that no one is immune, and that following Christ requires us to constantly reexamine our hearts, attitudes, and lifestyles.
Live above reproach
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” —Titus 2:7–8 (NIV)
If you live above reproach, your ministry won’t need defending.
What verses have you relied on as a youth pastor? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.