Youth worker vs youth minister – Gordon Fitch

Gordon Fitch is national youth manager with Presbyterian Youth Ministry. In this article he explores the difference between youth workers and youth ministers and encourages a focus on employing youth ministers.

Youth worker, youth leader, youth pastor, youth coordinator, youth director: there are a lot of titles given to a person who heads up a church’s ministry with young people.

No matter what the title is, I believe there are two types of positions, and I’m going to call them a youth worker and a youth minister.

A youth worker is given a job description that is about organising programs. It may include things like running the Friday night youth group, running the home groups or Sunday morning bible class. A youth worker will often work relationally, connecting in with the young people, maybe watching their netball games on a Saturday morning, commenting on their Instagram feed etc. A good youth worker will be a good role model of what a Christian in the 21st century looks like.

The role of a youth minister is not a programmer. The primary role of a youth minister is to facilitate relationships between the congregation’s adults and its young people, allowing them to open up their lives to each other and share what’s going on. Yes, a youth minister may be tasked with ensuring a youth group happens, but they don’t necessarily need to be there. The youth minister will be tasked with inspiring, recruiting and training adults who will be able to disciple the young people at the youth group, at the netball court, on Instagram and demonstrate what it is like to be a Christian in the 21st century.

We have a small number of people throughout New Zealand who I would describe as youth ministers – some are national ordained parish ministers, some are awesome volunteers, and some are paid youth workers.

In an ideal world, every parish minister (national or local ordained) would consider themselves a youth minister. But, we also need to acknowledge that we have some awesome youth ministers who, because they are not ordained, are not well supported and statistically will not survive in ministry very long.

Ordained youth ministers is not really something we do in the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, but let me share what it means to Ryan Pixton who is ordained in  Presbyterian Church (USA) as an associate pastor for youth and outreach.

“One thing that being ordained means is better pay and benefits. This in turn means more stability and longer time at a church because I can support my family more. It also means I’m viewed on more equal standing as my head of staff and in some ways allows me to better advocate for youth ministry. Last, in regards to preaching and leading of worship, I’m able to help in connect better with our youth, or at least I hope I am.”

I’m sure it comes to no surprise to you, that many of the churches doing the best youth ministry in Aotearoa have had the same youth minister for a good number of years. There is no doubt in my mind, that one of the best ways to ensure a youth minister is well supported, is to ensure they are ordained. And there is no better a service that we can do for our young people, than having a theologically trained youth minister heading up the youth ministry in their church.

If you are a parish minister, ask yourself: “How am I facilitating relationships between adults and young people in my community?” And if your church is considering hiring a youth leader – no matter the title you call them – please consider employing a youth minister rather than a youth worker.