This question – are you a Youth Group Leader, a Youth Minister, or a Coordinator of Youth Ministry? – has been one of the most important questions I have found myself asking parish staff and pastors. A person’s title lays the foundation for how a they (as well as others around them) think about their role in the parish,what their responsibilities truly are, and how they go about carrying them out. Before I get into the specific distinctions, though, and what implications this has for youth ministry, I want to begin by explaining why I started asking this question in the first place.
It all started with someone who I know is involved in ministry but who wasn’t interested in some of the new and different opportunities available in the area because they couldn’t go themselves. Not only that, they knew that if they sent youth to one of these different programs, it would likely negatively affect the number of youth that were attending the events that they organized. Because of these two reasons, they choose not to even mention these different opportunities to the youth they are responsible for forming.
If you have followed my blog at all in the last couple years, you will hopefully know that this type of mentality in youth ministry gives me chills. Because of the pressure of growing successful programs (whether it is self-inflicted or coming from an outside source) this person has little interest in offering a diversity of programming and opportunities that can meet the different needs of the youth in the parish and/or community because it may have an effect on the programs they are responsible for running.
You may have noticed that I slipped in the dilemma we face with our language in youth ministry. Are we responsible for running programs, or are we responsible for forming the youth? I believe we can answer this question through carefully choosing the title that is given to the person who serves as the leader for youth ministry in the parish. Let me break down these three different titles and offer insights into each.
Youth Group Leader
This sounds like a title you would give to a volunteer who is leading a youth group in parish, and rightly so. A youth group leader is responsible for “leading youth group.” This implies that they take little to no responsibility for what happens outside of youth group, and their role is simply to make youth group as awesome as possible.
Technically, only an ordained person can serve as a minister in the Church. Lay people who are hired as “youth ministers” have been called upon to share in this responsibility of ministry. The title “youth minister” implies that the person should be ministering to the youth, for which Renewing the Vision does a good job of laying out goals and providing some framework to follow. The problem that I have found in having a youth minister is that it implies that this person is the one who should be doing the youth ministry, which can also imply that others are not, should not, or maybe even do not know how (because they are not youth ministers themselves).
Coordinator of Youth Ministry
A coordinator is simply responsible for coordinating the details involved in making youth ministry happen in the parish. This is actually the title I have come to prefer because it implies that the actual ministry is done by someone else and this person’s job is simply to “coordinate” and support the efforts of others. The one problem with reducing the position to what may seem like only a secretarial or logistical role is that people don’t have the youth ministry “expert” to rely upon to do the work for them. The beauty of a position like this is that it requires parents and other adults to step up and be more directly involved in leading the youth ministry efforts in the parish, but now they have someone to support those efforts. This title also seems to provide some margin within the coordinator’s role to accommodate and make available opportunities that are most fitting for the youth, which would base their success on truly serving the youth as opposed to increasing numbers in a youth group.
Ideally, a Coordinator of Youth Ministry would not only be good at coordinating the various aspects of youth ministry in the parish but would be very experienced in youth ministry as well. In this regard, they would essentially be taking a step back from working directly with the youth and using their experience and wisdom would instead focus on forming adults to do what they have learned through their experience. Doing so would allow the freedom for the adults to be the youth ministers but would also give them the support and mentorship that is often essential for them to have a confidence in what they are doing.
Each of these titles serves a purpose, but having a single person serving in only one of these roles may leave a rather big void in a parish’s youth ministry efforts. Depending on the vision of your pastor, though, one of these roles may be a perfect fit.
If this post is making you take a look at your role in the parish, I’d encourage you to share it with your pastor. Begin the conversation in order to help you know what your responsibilities are, which will also help you understand areas of freedom to move and grow.
I, of course, have my own opinions on how a parish can structure and navigate the different roles and responsibilities of youth leaders in the parish. I’d be happy to dialogue more about this in our Facebook Group if you are interested!