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What NOT to do as a Youth Pastor!

Ever had THAT moment where you wanted the ground to open up and swallow you whole?

I remember one of my first ever invitations to preach. I was speaking to a room of youth and and their leaders. I was SO excited!
Here we go. Big moment. I’ve made it. And then it happened…

I delivered that joke. The joke which I had worked so hard on, it was going to bring the room to their knees with laughter. It was funny, tasteful, but had a cheeky cultural edge. [I was beginning to think of a career change to comedy!]

So the moment came, I cracked the joke, and…. NOTHING. No laughter. Nobody got it. It turns out the cultural differences were huge, and it made no sense.

I DIED INSIDE! I was like, Jesus I know you are coming back, but can you please come now!!

This is a silly example of when I felt like the worst Youth Pastor ever, but really, it was only one bad joke. However there are a number of habits that churches, youth pastors, leaders and volunteers get into that really cause damage rather than build a healthy youth ministry. I know, because I have done a number of them. So here are Chris’s:



Never assume that your youth are keeping their parents “in the loop” about what you are doing in your ministry.

I used to make the mistake of assuming that parents knew what was going on because their kids did. WRONG. One of the best things I learned early days as a youth pastor was to have clear and good communication with parents. Let them know what’s going on. Give them advanced warning. Explain to them why its good for their child to eat horrible food and never sleep on retreats. Wait… don’t tell them that.


‘Forget to Breathe’

Youth ministry will get busy. So make sure you build regular rhythms of rest into your planning. If you don’t you will never rest. Building rest into your ministry life will better your input, strengthen your relationships and will also contribute to the growth of your ministry. No burnt out candle ever gave any light.

In my yearly planning I know when I have holidays. I know seasons of youth ministry that are lighter. I know the seasons that are heavier. Youth pastors have a reputation of not planning, but we know we have to. Planning helps me to breathe.


‘Buy into the Lie’

Never buy into the lie that just because the other youth ministries in town have more teens, that you must be doing something wrong.

Ministry can often become a comparison game. But remember, Christ has called you. So love the way Jesus loves, make things fun, and build a healthy community where youth feel belonging.

In my first job we started with a handful of youth. And I compared our situation to many other youth groups in the city which only made me feel down, inadequate and out of my depth. But God challenged me, reminded me of my calling, and asked that I play my part. Over 3 years we saw our youth group grow by 500%! It wasn’t anything crazy. We loved Jesus, made things fun, and built a healthy community where youth belonged.

Now, the classic response… ‘Chris, it is not about numbers.’ And there is an element of truth in that statement. However have you thought…

Every number is a person. Every person has a name. Every name is an eternity. Numbers matter.


‘Do it Alone’

Build a team, don’t be a superhero!

Recruit a team. It is essential. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4 that the role of the pastor is to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.’

Do yourself out of a job.
Build the best team you can.
Ask big from your team.
Bless your team.



‘Stop Loving’

Youth need love.
Every day.
They will claim they don’t, but they do.
Don’t stop loving them.

I remember one of my youth who we will call John for stories sake. John was part of our youth ministry for a couple years. His home life was hard as his dad had passed, and John even though he was a good kid and enjoyed youth, was quite evidently depressed. Over the space of a year, 3 youth events per week, one retreat and love from the youth team, John became a Christian. He commented to me the following week after giving his life to Jesus: ‘Chris, I have been so sad and angry at God about my Dad, but he healed me, I feel joy now, I love life.’


Never Stop Loving.



Your friend, Chris.


Ever felt disengaged with your youth?
Maybe you need more swag…

  1. Chris Cameron says

    Hey Chris,

    Hope your Canadian Lifestyle is treating you well. Thank you for this timely reminder. It has really helped remind me once again what is important in youth ministry. Especially taking a breather. Its hard to not get caught up in the work.

    Blessings from an old friend

    Chris Cameron
    Youth Worker at Kirkliston Parish Church

    1. Chris Whitelaw says

      Thanks Chris!
      Such an encouragement.
      Bless you bro!

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