This seems like a perfectly innocuous statement.
Most often, God calls the best people through non-traditional pathways.
And some of my to 15 favorite ministers of all time are not ordained ministers.
But intention matters.
And for many churches, this statement is not made out of a principled stand for alternative paths, nor is it a clarity of God's call.
For many churches, this statement is made out of a lack of vision.
The last time I heard someone say this, I had volunteered to be the guinea pig practice interview for their Youth Minister Search Committee.
Or was it the Youth Coordinator Search Committee?
Or was it the Associate Minister Search Committee?
Or was it the Children and Youth Programming Coordinator?
They couldn't decide.
But it didn't matter, because they were open to hiring both ordained and non-ordained people so that they didn't limit their search, right?
Here's why it matters:
Because each one of those titles communicates a different vision, a different desire for our kids, a different set of expectations for the person hired. Each one of those titles will attract a different set of applicants. Each one of those titles will communicate a different set of expectations and produce a different relationship. Each one of those titles will turn you into a different kind of church.
I asked what happened to the last person they hired for this role. Apparently they went down in flames, unexpectedly leaving the church due to great conflict. As they rehashed the conflict for me, one committee member offered an example of the previous Youth Minister's failings, "He didn't even know my 5 year-old's name." A scathing condemnation, if that were his job.
But it wasn't clear if it was his job because the church wasn't clear about what his job was.
Most importantly, they were setting themselves up to repeat the conflict because they weren't very clear about what they wanted from the next person they hired.
It may seem callus to say, "It's not a minister's job to know your child's name," but that's why titles matter.
If you advertise a position as "Youth Minister," you are defining their job by who they are supposedly serving. Their job is to serve the "Youth." Certainly, you can make an argument that to be effective a "Youth Minister" should also be connecting with adults to get them involved in supporting the youth, and also connecting with 5 year olds so they start looking forward to being in the high school youth group when they're old enough. But by making that argument, you are claiming that you no longer want a "Youth Minister." You no longer want a minister who works exclusively with the "Youth." You want a minister who works with 5 year olds, 15 year olds, and 50 year olds. You want a generalists, not a specialist. You want an "Associate Minister" not a "Youth Minister."
But maybe you don't want a generalist. Maybe you want to communicate to your youth that they matter. I hear this from many churches. We don't want to hire an Associate Minister who is a generalist. We want to hire a Youth Minister who is exclusively focused on our Youth. That's great. But it also communicates that Youth Ministry is an isolated endeavor. If your Youth Minister is exclusively devoted to Youth Ministry, not involved in worship, not expected to minister to the adults, then you are communicating that you don't expect your Youth to be integrated into those activities either.
My grandfather, Papa, always used to talk about how back in his day, the entire football team used to play the whole game. Papa would play both offense and defense. They were generalists. But now, when you hire a QB, you don't expect him to jump into the defensive line. So the question is this: when you hire a "Youth Minister," do you expect them know your 5 year-old's name? Do you hold it against them when they don't?
I guess part of how you answer the question depends on how you define that ever ambiguous word "Youth." Is it 13-18 year olds? Is it 10-35 year olds? Is it 0-50 year olds?
I think of that book/movie "Money Ball" where they move one of their players to first base who has never played the position before. You would think that a professional baseball player could handle playing any position, right? I mean, it's all throwing and catching. But when he moves to First Base it's almost as if he has never played baseball before. Same is true of ministry, not all ministers share the same skill set and not all ministry requires the same skill set.
I obviously have my biases. I also recognize that these questions have different answers for each church. What works for my church won't always work in your church.
But I'll tell you what never works: being unclear.
You need to do that discernment together. You need to have that vision together. You need to have clear expectations for what you want for your youth in your church. Because there's a big difference between hiring someone who's good at working with youth and calling a pastor to minister to your church. Sometimes when we decide to search for a minister, we may find that a lay employee is a better candidate. But it is important for us to be self-aware to realize that we are making a shift in our expectations. Otherwise, you're going to lose an amazing minister when they can't understand why you're so upset that they don't know your 5 year-olds' name.