student ministry, youth worker, youth ministry

How Youth Workers Can Earn Respect (Part One)

By Mike McGarry December 12, 2016

In this two part blog series, two of our favorite writers weigh in on 10 ways that youth workers can earn respect.

It was a rookie mistake. In my great effort to convey dignity to my students, I shared how much it bothered me whenever someone would ask, “Do you ever want to become a real pastor?” When asked, I’d inwardly vomit, then smile and reply, “I am a real pastor” and proceed to explain how youth pastors are real pastors. While this was supposed to encourage them about their role in the church, a few students took this as an easy opportunity to harass me for years by asking the dreaded question.

Whether you serve in a church or another ministry, many of us have developed a low-grade inferiority complex. Personally, I don’t like referring to ministry as a “professional” vocation, but here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about how you can earn the respect of parents and other adults in your church or ministry.

  1. Take your calling seriously.
    If you don’t take yourself seriously, why should anyone else? When you discredit yourself as “just the youth pastor,” others are unlikely to see you as anything more. You can’t complain about being asked when you will become a “real pastor” if you act like youth ministry is junior-ministry.
  1. Keep the gospel at the center.
    Yes, “gospel centered” is totally a thing right now, but where else should the gospel be in our ministries, if not at the center? Trying to be relevant can easily drift into a works-centered ministry that only teaches students how to be a good friend, how to stay sexually pure, or how to discern their music choices. Those can be good topics, but keep them as a direct outflow of a heart that’s been transformed by the gospel. This, more than anything else, is what defines a good minister and makes them deserving of respect.
  1. Don’t be a clown when the situation requires you to be an adult.
    You cannot have longevity in youth ministry if you take yourself too seriously, but you’ll never get the respect of parents and other adults if you’re always a clown. It’s wise to minimize sarcasm with parents. Remember to shake hands firmly and look people in the eye. Carry yourself in a way that demonstrates maturity. If you act like a kid, the kids may like you… but you’ll be treated like a kid. Parents will have a hard time respecting and trusting someone who still acts like a teenager.
  1. Spend time with adults inside and outside of your ministry.
    Seek out the community of parents and other adults in your ministry. If spending time with teenagers is your only source of fellowship and spiritual growth, you’re likely in an unhealthy situation. You can also pursue opportunities to serve outside of the youth ministry. Go on a hospital visit or bring a meal to an elderly person in your church. These experiences will only enrich your ministry and increase the trust others have in you as a “real pastor.”
  1. Dress up.
    There’s a reason fashion designers are considered artists: because what you wear says something about who you are. Let’s not take this too far, but put a few seconds of thought into what you wear to different places. A hoodie and jeans might be fine for youth group but probably not for Sunday worship. Dress in a way that demonstrates to the adults in the congregation that you take your ministry seriously.

We’ve been sent to the next generation with the glorious gospel, and we need to go about our ministry in a way that ensures both we and are message are taken seriously. The way we think about ourselves, the gospel centered content of our ministries, how we present ourselves to others, who we spend our time with, and even how we dress can help us earn and maintain the respect of our churches and communities.

Be sure to read Part 2 to hear Andy Lawrenson’s take on five more ways that youth workers can earn respect.

About the Author

Mike McGarry

Mike McGarry is the Youth Pastor at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, MA. He is passionate about the role of the gospel and theology in our ministry to students and their parents. Mike is the author of A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry: Teenagers in the Life of the Church (Randall House Academic, 2019), is…  Read More