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What is the correct title for individuals who minister to youth?

Youth Pastor or Student Pastor?

 Youth Pastor or Student Pastor?

Okay so I need your opinion about something that has been bothering me.  I am really curious what we should call the people who minister to students?

– Student Pastor

–  Youth Pastor

– Youth Worker

– Youth Director

– Youth Coordinator

Over the past few months I have been hearing a lot of people refer to them as “student pastors”.  But I have also heard a few others use youth pastor.

What one is right?

My youth ministry professor Chap Clarkat Fuller Theological Seminary was very clear about choosing certain words that will land best with students.  Every word that we use in front of our students means something to them.  So is it disrespectful calling their pastor a “youth pastor?”

So what word — Youth Pastor or Student Pastor — land best with students?

Is it possible that by calling us a youth pastor give teenagers an impression that are really young, immature, and inexperience?  Is calling a student pastor a student pastor more appropriate and describe the stage of life they are in?

Two questions I would like for you to answer:

1.  What is your official “youth” position title?

2.  What one is correct?  Why?

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

33 comments

  1. Nobody on the planets calls teenagers youth. I’m the student ministry director. I chose that title.

    • Not entirely true – most of the world refer to teens as youth. It is mostly in the united states where that label is largely unused. It took me a lot of time to get used to that when I started working in Canada

  2. I think I’m referred to as the youth director. I often get called the youth pastor. Whenever I speak to students, I use the word student, rather than youth, kids, etc.

    The title student pastor is a much more appropriate title. It not only makes students feel more secure in speaking with the student pastor, but it also demands a certain amount of maturity out of the students. It’s a win-win.

    • I find the older I get the more I refer to young people as kids and youth where I used to refer to them as students. The youth culture is absorbing more and more people and not all are actually students at all. Those that have graduated or those that have dropped out are still youth but not necessarily students. And I am yet to find a kid that is offended at being called a youth. But mainly I just refer to them as my friends and that solves a lot of issues

  3. With all due respect to Adam, I disagree. I took my current position here at the church 10 years ago and set up the title Student Ministries Pastor to bring the required respect to the position. The challenge is, my students refer to themselves as youth, and even “kids”. When they are praying, they pray for all of the “kids” in the youth group. They proudly talk about “youth group” to their friends, and I have yet to pick up a kid calling it the “student ministry”. So, about two years ago, I relented and just went back to “youth pastor”. I think it’s a straight cultural thing. Nothing more. Figure out what works in you context, and run with it.

  4. I agree with Jason’s last line. Figure out what fits your context and go with it. At the church’s I’ve worked at I’ve been called: Youth Intern, Sr. High Student Ministry Intern, Associate Student Pastor for Sr. High Ministries, Associate Student Minister, and Student Pastor. I’ve also only worked in metros and not in rural settings. I don’t know if urban vs. rural has anything to do with it.

  5. Here is where I think mainline denominations get left out. Evangelical churches tend to ordain their own ministers/pastors and often the requirements are not as steep. I was ordained in a Baptist church, but now I serve in a United Methodist church where my ordination is not recognized. Therefore I cannot technically be a Youth Pastor or Student Pastor. I am the Director of Youth Ministries. I think our church was used to the term “youth” and “students” denotes more of a college/young adult ministries inclusion, which I just do 7th-12th. I’ve never heard of a student not attending a church because they have a student pastor rather than a youth pastor. I think many of our reservations come from overthinking things when often the kids could care less about our job title. They just want to know that we care about them and want to help them in their faith journey.

  6. The reality is that the term pastor is title that really only has meaning within the church context and even then it is largely miss used. There are all sorts of callings that the new testament outlines for church leaders, however it is because holding the title pastor is one of the only recognized professions within the church that will ensure tax cuts. The term youth pastor or student pastor is fine within a youth group context or an offical job description, but I gravitate toward being more culturally relevant. I carry the title Youth Pastor on my business cards and my introductions. People have a way better understanding of a youth worker is than a youth pastor.

  7. My title is “Youth Pastor.” I would prefer “Student Ministries Pastor,” but the church culture has always been to call the HS/MS pastor “Youth Pastor.”

  8. How is this relevant? It doesn’t matter one bit what your title is. You are relevant and how you impact the “youth” with the way you live your life is important.

    Call me the Director of Callousisity (New word?), but I just can’t believe that what your title means actually means anything.

  9. My official title is Pastor of Student Ministries.
    In some ways, I truly do view myself as a full-fledged card carrying pastor, but to teenagers.

    I like the term youth workers, because that can broaden our horizons and scope of youth “ministry” to include more than just church. Social organizations, schools, clubs, sports, etc.. all considered working with teenagers and should have the same goal of the welfare and healthy development and maturation of students.
    check out the link below as well
    http://emergingyouth.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/rethinking-and-redefining-our-roles-as-youth-workers/

  10. We don’t use titles. The kids have never asked what to call me, and neither have parents. Why do we need titles?

  11. My official title is Student Pastor. At a previous church, I was the Director of Emerging Generations!

    I think Student Pastor is best, but I think the word youth isn’t great and I think the word student isn’t great. I try to refer to “youth” as “young people.” The truth is they are youth and they are kids. So we shouldn’t worry too much about calling them such, yet I still do.

  12. Christian Smith, Notre Dame professor and author of Soul Searching, was shocked to learn that the term youth had been replaced by student. He believes calling teenagers students is a travesty that must stop. Here’s why:

    “A lot of teenagers are, in fact, not students. Many are school dropouts. Are they not worthy of Christian youth ministry? Do we want to systematically exclude them through our labels? Also, some teenagers are home-educated. Do they not belong in the youth group because they’re not students like their peers who attend traditional schools? Jesus is for all teenagers. Why adopt the constrictive student ministry when not all youth are students?

    Student ministry subtly (and oddly) singles out teenagers from the whole people of God. No church has an Employed Adult Ministry or a Home-maker Minister or Retired Seniors Minister. So why should the church define its ministry to youth around the institutional social status of student? I think this label subtly isolates youth as a subculture to be treated differently. The church needs to be moving in the exact opposite direction when it comes to teenagers.

    Student lingo passively allows the culture’s dominant institutions to define for the church who youth are and how the church thinks about them. Young people, especially in view of the gospel, are fundamentally persons, not students. Their status as students is only one aspect of some teenagers’ lives, and often a very unhappy one at that!

    Why should the church embrace the categories and vocabulary of our schooling society, with all its performance-based structures and practices? We should, instead, push back on society’s labels by insisting that teenagers are referenced by the full depth, richness, and complexity of their personhood. They should be hearing from us: “Unlike most of the rest of society, we understand and value you in the fullness of who you are. Here among God’s people we know you as real human persons—you don’t have to perform to be accepted here. Please be your real selves.”

    When I talk to youth ministers about this, most tell me they’ve never reflected on the implications of tagging teenagers with a student label. Well, I think it’s time to think about it. There’s no good reason to define youth through the lens of a single social role. Our terms shape what we assume and how we think. I’m asking Christian youth workers all over the country (you!) to change your “shaping” language—to use language that honors teenagers as whole human persons in God’s kingdom. Please stop calling teenagers students, and ask everyone around you to do the same.”

    I couldn’t agree more!
    http://www.youthministry.com/?q=node/19800

    • This makes a great case. I would urge facing this reality rather than attempting to redefine an age grouping (youth) in an attempt to be trendy under the guise of “relevance.” I think it’s hilarious to hear a youth pastor addressing a group of parents talk about “your students.” In this most basic of relationships, what young person sees themselves as their parents’ student? What parent thinks in such terms about their teenage sons or daughters? “Student” is certainly not the life-defining term implied by its current use in ministry names and titles.

  13. My title is Pastor to Youth, because thats what I do. Im a Pastor of the church, not just the Youth, but my main emphasis is the Youth, so thus, Pastor to Youth.

    My area is both heavily catholic and prior to my arrival, completely youth ministry devoid. The first Month I was hear I went with Student Pastor, but when I told people in town what I did they thought “Oh your learning to be a pastor” so I quickly changed it to youth pastor, which got similar questions as well as “so your like the Junior Pastor of the church”

    Thus why I finally decided to go with Pastor to Youth. Not because Title defines who I am, but its what i do, it helps the kids understand what Im supposed to be doing, etc. etc. etc.

  14. my title is pastor to students. i’m not quite sure about the distinction of youth vs student. for me i always talk in the context that we are all learning…and therefore students and that finding and understanding our journey in the Story takes diligence and learning. so i’m happy with the title as i walk with others, younger and older who want to find their place. I see student ministry as much about growing spiritually-health adults who can leverage my leadership as one called to serve and lead into the lives of students as it is the growing of spiritually healthy youth.

  15. My official title is Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry, which means something to Presbyterians familiar with multi-staff churches, but probably not many others. I usually call myself “youth pastor” to non-Presbyterians since that has more widespread usage.

    At the same time, some non-youth people might take me less seriously if I’m introduced as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry, so in some situations I simply introduce myself as an Associate Pastor.

    I think I would most preferred to be called “Pastor for Youth”, but this might limit the scope of my call to be a pastor to the entire congregation.

    There is, of course, a whole other set of considerations for youth workers (?) that are not ordained. While they fill all the roles of pastor (except sacramental roles), its frowned upon in our denomination to call them pastors.

    As for what the students/youth think, I don’t think they find “youth” offputting or demeaning. I don’t think they really care what we call them as a collective. They are more interested in us treating them with respect as individuals.

  16. I’ve served under the title “Youth Pastor” but I prefer “Minister to Students.” I don’t know which is “correct” and I don’t think it really matters in the end.

    By the way, do you know that Ron Luce (Teen Mania\Acquire the Fire) thinks youth pastors\workers should be called “Youth Specialists?”

  17. I’ve been in student ministry full time for 11 years…I’ve always called myself the student pastor…but when the young people are talking about me or to me they just call me their pastor.

  18. im 15, and honestly. i dont think it matters what we’re called or what your titles are. i understand that you need some sort of distinction to scavenge any of the respect that you lose when running a youth group, but really, we usually call our “Youth pasters” by their first names anyway. i mean, like my good buddy Shakespeare always says, “wouldnt a rose, by any other name smell as sweet?”…. i mean… can you really argue with that?

  19. So, they call me the Director of Youth Development at our church…
    …sorry to add another item to the list. :-)

    On a more serious note, I like the student (fill in the blank). Another word for student is disciple… and I am hoping to help there to be more students of Christ in this world. The teens at my church appreciate being called students as opposed to “youth”. The word youth seems to put them in a certain “younger kid” category. I think it is different from church to church. Maybe some church cultures like using the word youth.

  20. “Students” would technically be most people aged 4-22 or so. When talking about middle or high school students I think “youth” works better because it implies older kids who are not yet full-fledged adults. In my church they call it the “Jr. and Sr. High Director” and we also have a “Youth Associate.” Although the schools in our area are almost all broken up middle/high school rather than jr/sr high people know exactly what that means. No matter what you call it though, no one really cares that much and everyone will probably catch on to what you mean. Some churches I know of don’t use any type of age-indicating title to denote their youth group and people understand what their talking about. (ex: Pastor of Lighthouse–Lighthouse is the name of the church’s youth ministry)

  21. I have actually talked with some of the high school juniors and seniors about this very thing and the going consensus is that they prefer to be called students rather than youth or kids. I do realize that it would not fit with those who have graduated, however it covers the majority of the student ministry body. Plus, with the people who graduate HS I usually can call them by name. There is really no right name, it has to fit the mojo that the students/kids/youth/young adults give off.

  22. I am officially the High School Director…
    I refer to myself as Student Pastor to all. Most of the student’s and parents refer to me as Finkel (my last name). In public the student’s introduce me as their youth pastor. Sometimes I feel that is a stigma, but it usually depends on “how” they said the introduction. The church staff refers to the MS guy and myself as “directors”

    I guess “adolescent disciple’s pastor” is truest to their Kingdom identity and earthly reality. If I have to pick 1 it’s student pastor.

  23. “What is your official ‘youth’ position title?”
    Informally, I am the “youth pastor.” This seems to be the title that most people would use if they were to introduce me to a first time guest of our church. It seems to be universal across denominations and even unbelievers understand the title as well. Formally, I am the “Lead Pastor of Student Ministries.” This is primarily because my position oversees three departments (children, youth, and young adults).

    “What one is correct? Why?”
    Much of my answer is going to be according to our church and denominational views of each office.

    We use several different titles to communicate different things…
    Worker – This includes all of our adult leadership whether paid or volunteer (Youth Worker). The term “worker” is more inclusive.
    Director – This usually indicates someone who gives direction to a ministry (Youth Director or Director of Student Ministries), but is not an ordained pastor.
    Pastor – Our church reserves this title for those who have been ordained.

    “Youth” or “Student” seems to be the next logical question.
    Again, we use multiple terms depending on how specific we want to be.

    When we say “Children’s Ministry” or “Kids’ Ministry” there is little doubt as to the age group that we are referring. Most churches would acknowledge these as the pre-teen age group.

    However, when we say “Student Ministry” there is a need for clarification. In some churches the Student Ministry encompasses college students or even elementary students in addition to the teenagers. For example, in my church, I serve as the Lead Pastor of Student Ministries. This means that I oversee Children, Youth, and College/Young Adult Ministries with “Directors” and “Pastors” that oversee each department.

    It seems that the “right” titles are the ones that best communicate the needs and structure found within the local church.

  24. As far as “students” vs “youth”, i prefer Teen Ministry. At my church I am the Director of Youth Ministries but that is far from what I am. To me, the term “director” implies a lot of activity organization and such. I’m a pastor, regardless of what the denomination chooses to label my position. But, I think Teen Ministry is a great term for what we do. Yes, I have some 12 year olds in my group too, but they turn 13 within that first year…and I think most people get the point. If I were Burger King and could have it my way, I’d be the Teen Pastor.

    As said in previous posts, “students” is a very broad term and includes a heckuva lot of people that we do not minister to. The term “youth” may be appropriate worldwide but I don’t ever recall referring to teenagers as “youth.” In the end, no it probably doesn’t matter. But since this is what we do, it matters to us.

  25. Just a year ago, our youth ministry had a discussion about whether it is youth ministry or student ministry and everyone strongly agreed that Youth Ministry was preferred over Student Ministry. The youth said that “student ministry” made them feel like they were in school!

    Tomara

  26. I appreciate all that has been said but I really agree with those that lean towards the fact that we might be over-thinking this a little (or a lot!) Personally, I have shifted back and forth in my pursuit to be more relevant; I personally think my teens appreciate having their own pastor they can go to if they need someone to talk to besides parents, etc. Personally, I feel it is a little misleading and constricting if we use the term “student pastor” (unless by student we mean “disciples”) Maybe there’s more the life of the teenager than just school and I feel sometimes when I refer to myself as “student pastor” and my ministry as “student ministry” then I am fostering a sense of pidgeon-holing teens as just acedemics wanting to learn about Jesus instead of walking with Him; just my personal opinion though; agree that students/youth/teens/kids whatever you want to call them probably don’t care unless they are convinced that you care about them!

  27. Title: Director of Student Ministries

    I suppose I side with the “Student” moniker. I believe that part of the residual use of youth is either because of tradition carrying the title forward, or because in some cases, a “Youth Pastor” covers a wider demographic, specifically K-12 I would say.

    When that demographic shrinks to say 6th-12th grade or Middle and High School you see “Student Pastor” become more applicable. The youth have changed from life as it is right now, to looking at future. Identity is being formed, self awareness is more than just survival, it is actually involving introspection. So they become students of themselves, also a more serious approach to academics, and even spirituality.

    So for me, I am a minister to Students I only deal on a direct basis with middle and high schoolers. To those who carry all the grades from elementary on up, I salute you. You carry a lot on your shoulders.

    My 2 cents.

    Zach

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