Dee, High Point, and 22-Year-old Youth Pastors

Most of the time, I tend to be on the same side as TWW when it comes to exposing abusers and calling out a system that coddles them. In the Andy Savage/Jules Woodson case, I have had their backs 99% of the time.

This is the 1%. And I’m not talking about their take on those who slut-shame Jules–I agree with the Deebs on that one.

I’m talking about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of putting 22-year-olds, who have little spiritual mileage as adults, in an office of pastoral authority over teens.

While Dee seems to make a good case when she discusses 22-year-old teachers, 22-year-old nurses, even 18-year-old firemen, I would contend that she is comparing apples to oranges.

Teaching English or science or mathematics is not on the same par as being a youth pastor.

If I’m a school teacher, the chances of me being alone with a student are going to be pretty remote. If I’m teaching, the classroom will be full. Even if students have questions after class, it’s a simple matter to keep the door open, or only entertain questions while there are others in the room. To be alone with a student–while possible–requires effort.

When you’re a youth pastor, it’s a different ballgame.

(1) While churches often have a “two-adult rule”, I can also tell you that, in smaller churches, that is not always feasible.

That means you’re going to need a youth pastor who has reined in his lusts sufficiently that he does not see the youth to whom he is ministering as potential girlfriends or conquests. Can a 22-year-old have that kind of maturity? It’s possible. But most of the men I’ve known in that bracket–and yes, we’re talking Christians–are either (a) looking to get married, or (b) still trying to learn self-regulation, or (c) both (a) and (b).

(2) Rightly dividing the word of truth–and teaching young people how to do it–requires more knowledge than you’re going to get in a 4-year-degree.

Coming out of college, I had an aeronautical engineering degree. I also had experience working in the math and science tutoring center, and had taught physics labs. I knew algebra and calculus and Newtonian mechanics like the back of my hand. I probably could have walked into any high school math or science class and started teaching.

When it comes to teaching Scripture, it’s a different ballgame. I was active in the Christian Fellowship Club at my alma mater. I also attended church regularly. I wasn’t a dummy when it came to Scripture–I won all those Bible Trivia games–but when it comes to teaching, it’s more complicated than, say, algebra.

In my 51 years of life, I have met only one 22-year-old whom I think would have been capable of being a good youth minister. And he was a lot like me: very un-polished, not a lot of charisma, but teaching was his gig. He also was serious about self-regulation.

When I was at SBTS, I had classmates who served as youth ministers and pastors. The ones in their early 20s were very shallow and struggled in their classwork. I often ended up tutoring them. They were in no position to be teachers to teens.

The ones older than 25 tended to be better-grounded, not just in Scripture but in their ability to provide strong counsel from Scripture.

I guess my larger problem here is with what I call the Ministerial-Industrial Complex.

It is the standard model by which churches build up their ministers. It has become a game of (a) take a young adult in or just out of college and make them a children’s minister or a youth minister, (b) send them to seminary to get an MA or MDiv, (c) have them do some part-time pastoral gigs during that time, (d) get them into a small bivocational or full-time position once they are newly-minted MDiv grads, and (e) as they “grow”, move them into senior positions, larger churches, etc.

What’s wrong with that picture?

(1) It treats the ministry like a corporate ladder. Just like the world

(2) It puts inexperienced young adults in positions of teaching teens, at a time when teens need very knowledgeable teachers who will challenge them and push them hard in these formative years.

What happens when a 10th-grader starts asking you questions about evolution? Or abortion? Are you ready to answer those matters intelligently?

What happens if a teen in your youth group tells you of the atheist teacher who is always trying to sow the seeds of skepticism? Are you ready to provide a reasonable case for Christ?

What happens when a kid tells you that he (or even she) is struggling with same-sex attraction? Or is fixated on porn? Are you ready to counsel someone in that kind of cesspool, and help such a one navigate these very unpleasant topics?

What happens when you have a youth whose home life is hell, whose parents are addicts, who asks you what “honor your father and mother” looks like in a case like that?

What if a 16-year-old girl tells you that one of her relatives is having sex with her?

Do you know the wisdom literature well enough to convey Biblical truths in ways that are understandable to a teen?

What if you have a teen who tells you she is pregnant, and her parents are trying to force her to have an abortion?

What happens when you have a youth who is struggling with drug or alcohol issues?

At 27, I could handle those things reasonably well. At 22, I would have been in over my head. The hormones of early adulthood would not have made those other challenges any easier at 22, either.

Like I said, I have only known one person in my life who, at 22, would have been qualified to do that job. And it wasn’t me.

Yes, I was a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center at age 24. But I also had a lot of supervision, too, and wasn’t too proud to hand off tough cases to more experienced counselors. The director–who had a son my age–was like a second mom to me.

(I also kept the door open when I was the only counselor in the room.)

I didn’t start teaching in church until I was on the tail end of 25. And I didn’t take on any ministerial positions until 27.

By that time, I had seen a plethora of ministers go down in scandal. I got a front-row seat to what was possible if one did not learn to master their lusts.

And while I knew of big scandals during my college days, I can tell you this much: very little discussion in church circles ever involved the reality that such things begin with very simple lusts.

Andy Savage may have understood those truths on an academic level. But there is a world of difference between that and being able to flesh that out and teach others in the process.

Nothing says “you break it, you own it” like sex. And, sadly, with sexual sin, you can’t just take it back. As King David said, “my sin is ever before me.”

Unfortunately for Savage, he understood that a minute too late.

And while that is his baggage for which he is ultimately responsible, I also say that his church bears responsibility for conforming to a paradigm that is predisposed to putting unqualified people in very critical ministerial positions.

3 thoughts on “Dee, High Point, and 22-Year-old Youth Pastors

  1. I was looking at the TWW story you linked to… it has a metric crapton of comments; but I didn’t see a single one that addressed the issue you brought up in this post.

    Then again, it could have been hidden in said metric crapton. 😉

    I’m curious how the Deebs would respond to that criticism.

  2. I’ve been involved in the Twittersphere regarding most of this case. So it’s not just about the TWW story that was linked.

    Dee is addressing the people who dismiss what Andy did, who make the argument, “He was young (22), it was a youthful indiscretion, etc.” And in the process, she refers to other professionals–EMTs, nurses, teachers, etc.–who handle said responsibilities at young ages.

    What I am contending is that, while her point is valid, I would also stipulate that being a minister in a church is a whole different ballgame. In the process, I (a) an in agreement with her regarding the severity of what Savage did while (b) am also critical of a church culture that puts young, inexperienced and unproven adults in positions that require a lot more maturity and experience than you’re going to see in most 22-year-olds.

    Not sure what she would say to that.

  3. That was the point I was trying to get at… I didn’t see a single comment that dealt with the wisdom (or lack thereof) of putting guys fresh out of college into youth ministry.

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