This year our theme is “The Life…..” Today we explore that with…..
The Life of an (Un)intentional Youth Pastor
Kyle Caudle serves as the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church in Winchester, Virginia where he does youth ministry and other duties as assigned. He is a twice graduate of the University of North Carolina Greensboro (B.A. in Religious Studies and M.A.T in TESOL) and a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Divinity (M.Div.). Kyle’s ministry background includes youth ministry, church planting, pastoral ministry, and spiritual formation. As a musician, Kyle has played live in over 20 states. He also writes a weekly devotional email letter called Yall Saints
I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a “typical” call story for youth ministers. Most of us are familiar with the “mythical” call story though. The “mythical” calling is neat, planned, and direct. God speaks. We respond. We check all the typical boxes of an aspiring youth minister. Attend seminary, find a church, better yet, find a church who will ordain and maybe even pay you to work with youth. Get to work and inspire young people with the story of Jesus and what he might mean for their lives.
Calling, however, is rarely so clear. It is often indirect, winding, and meandering. Calling seems to come more in whispers than in roars.
My own story and most of the real youth pastors I know have very different call stories. Each story is unique as the person who God calls. Some knew all along that they wanted to be a pastor to young people. Others take more indirect paths to get there. I would like to say that I set out intentionally to be a youth pastor. Honestly, though, I stumbled into it.
I remember writing a letter to Terri Springer who was the lead youth minister at First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. They had an opening for a youth associate. I was fresh out of college and needed a job. I also had a deep longing to explore what God had in store for my own life. I had interests and nudges and they were all over the place. For many years before and even during ministry I had dreams of playing music professionally. I also had a passion for theology and enjoyed working with food.
I enjoyed young people but I wasn’t sure what it all meant. In my letter to her I said I was open to exploring my call and doing this while working with youth. Somehow she saw God’s call in my life and they called me to serve in a unique team ministry setting. After 3 years of working alongside youth, I felt that God was calling me to ministry and decided to attend seminary.
In divinity school I gravitated towards theology and ethics classes, but still felt connected to the local church and youth ministry. Somehow youth ministry still had a space in my heart. I even did a senior project on youth-inclusive worship practices and took (what I believe was) the first youth ministry course offered at my divinity school.
After graduating, I interviewed for associate pastor positions in the US and overseas, youth ministry positions, ministry residency programs and more but I had no “paid” position following seminary. I was still playing music, touring regularly, and even started working at a local bakery. Later that year though, my band broke up and I was laid-off from the bakery job I loved.
It was a very low point.
To deal with this, I reached out to my former pastor at FBC Winston-Salem who told me they had an associate pastor vacancy. The only catch was that it was an associate pastor of administration (as in, youth ministers need not apply). In my desperation, though, I played up how I would be a good fit—I had managed a bakery before, mind you.
My former church decided to hire me in an unorthodox interim position that included 50% church administration, 25% youth ministry, and 25% leading the contemporary worship service. Our church was going through many transitions. Less than a year into my role, the pastor announced his retirement. This retirement brought on many changes, including some very painful staff cuts.
On the same day my former mentor was called and notified that she was being “let go” as minister to students, I was called and notified I would now be “taking over” the student ministry (let the healing begin!). As I dealt with the emotional turmoil in our church that this transition caused, I developed a very clear sense that God was calling me to lead these students through a difficult transition along with developing new rhythms and traditions for our group. After a couple years, I knew my time would be up, and then I would move on to another church.
But nothing seemed to open up.
The life of calling is never clear.
I decided to get a master’s in teaching ESL and accepted the call to a bi-vocational pastorate. I taught. I preached. I nearly burned out. After 2 years in this small church–that I couldn’t seem to “revitalize”—I was hearing a call back to youth ministry of all things. After stumbling my way through youth ministry positions for a decade, I finally embraced my role as youth pastor.
All the unintentional steps and stumbles along the way have helped me to do youth ministry with greater intentionality. My teaching degree is helping me develop better Bible studies. My music background can always be used in churches. Administration actually helps a lot with youth ministry too. But it is the young people themselves who keep me coming back. Walking with them through their own winding journeys is amazing calling.
Intentional or not, I’m a youth pastor.