I remember sitting in an Intro to Ministry class during my freshman year of college and hearing my professor speak of the four “men” that come to mind when we hear the word “minister.” Chances are, you’ve probably heard of each of these. The first man is the one who pastors a medium or large church that is accomplishing its mission to reach the lost and disciple the saints in a particular context. The second man is the missionary, who takes the Gospel to a new context in order to accomplish that same mission. The third man is the church planter who, like the missionary, is concerned with injecting the Gospel into a context where it isn’t already established. Then there’s the fourth man, and if we are honest, not many are interested in being the fourth man. That’s because he is the one who pastors the “established church.”
The Fourth Man pastors the established church.
There are many reasons why pastoring an established church is not as glamorous of a calling as what appears to have been bestowed upon the other three men. Established churches, at least in the South, tend to be rural or in small towns, running less than 100 on Sunday mornings, and plagued with “small town issues” like low budgets, bi-vocational ministry, and marginal attendance. For these reasons and many others, graduates from universities and seminaries struggle with Isaiah’s cry of “Here I am Lord, send me,” when faced with the option of being the fourth man. The reality is, however, that the pendulum of emphasis in ministry in the South seems to be swinging from church planting, to church revitalization – and where there is a need for church revitalization, there s usually a need for youth ministry revitalization.
Where there’s a need for church revitalization, there’s usually a need for youth ministry revitalization.Just Google the phrase “youth ministry revitalization” and you will find many sites that explain how to jump-start a youth group whose attendance has dwindled. But most of what has been written is under the assumption that you are working for the first man, not the fourth. Most established churches are not large and often have limited resources. When this is true, their youth ministries by default have much less. These youth ministries tend to have high turnover rates in youth pastors, and my theory is that this is due in part to a lack of financial resources, and the sheer difficulty of the task. The church has an incredible need but usually lacks the incentives necessary to attract willing ministers who may be able to address the problem. Salaries for these positions often lead to bi-vocational ministry, and fundraisers are crucial to sustaining budgets. Thes churches need ministers who are willing and able to end the instability.
Church revitalization is a messy process, and it needs people who are willing to plant their feet into a difficult context and stay the course. The same is true for youth ministry. It is undoubtedly more appealing to accept a position as a youth pastor at a church with a thriving youth ministry, programs for every day of the week, softball games, a band, pizza nights, and average over 50 students. My fear, though, is that when applying for ministry positions, youth pastors are bypassing students at the established churches who really need their presence.
A youth ministry in need of revitalization needs:
A youth pastor who is willing to plant his/her feet in the context and stay the course.
A church that will surround that youth pastor with encouragement and support.
I have had the privilege of serving in an established church like this for the past two years, and I can honestly say – it is worth it. Is it easy? No. Will there be times when the church down the street is more appealing? Yes. Will you probably have to work two jobs? Yes, maybe more than two. But students in established churches need youth pastors who are willing to walk through life with them just as much as those at the big church down the street. It is some of the most difficult and most rewarding work in youth ministry, and the need for it has never been greater. Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:37-38 ring true in regards to this issue. The harvest is indeed plentiful, and laborers are indeed few. Not only should we pray for the Lord to send out laborers into this harvest, we should also be willing to be the laborer that He sends.
My challenge for those who are about to graduate college or seminary, and want to serve in youth ministry, is to be willing to be the fourth man. If you are honest about walking through whatever door the Lord opens, then you can’t shut the door on established churches. These students are too valuable to the Lord. So ask yourself, “Am I willing to be the fourth man?”
Am I willing to be the fourth man?
If so, God may lead you to a church like mine, and what an incredible calling it will be! For those of you who are already in a context like this, remember Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:5 when he said, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Paul knew a thing or two about difficult ministry, and he said that at the end of it, “…there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (vs 8). I can promise you this: If you open the door to these youth groups, and you are willing to stay the course, you will grow to love His appearing in the established church.