From the blog

The Youth Pastor’s Secret to Success

I’m a youth pastor connoisseur. Between high school chapels, youth groups, and special retreat speakers, I’ve seen every type imaginable. Some were good–even when I was a sneering cynic, I still liked my high school youth pastor1. Others youth pastors were…less good.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of Science Channel, but I think there’s a Unified Theory of Youth Pastors which explains all this. Here’s the thesis: the more concerned a youth pastor is with being manly, the less effective he is.

The Call of the Macho

It’s easy to see why youth pastors try being manly. Part of their job is gaining the respect of the worst people on the planet–teenage boys2. And many of these boys are only at church because their moms are forcing them. These are hard people to impress. A logical strategy, therefore, is playing the alpha male.

Maybe you’re a new youth pastor who wants to establish dominance. You’re in luck. I spent my teen years gawking at alpha pastor after alpha pastor crowing their way through campfire circles, youth group basements, and basketball pregames. This knowledge is earned.

So here’s my advice on being a macho youth pastor, based on things I’ve actually seen:

  • Dress young. Even though most of the youth pastors were around thirty, they had spiked hair, hemp necklaces, and skin-tight Abercrombie shirts3. This last item is especially important, because it lets you show-off your muscles. Which reminds me…
  • Brag about past athletic glory. But you should frame this as a lesson. For instance, you met a guy who was talking smack about his basketball game. When you beat him one-on-one, you taught him a lesson about pride. Or you used to be a skinny freshman loser. But because of hard work and encouragement, you went on to become a star linebacker.
  • Hint about knowing famous athletes. Example: “I was talking with [famous player] a while back (nice guy by the way: totally humble). He came up after my sermon and said it was important.” You can add “and you should too” if you want, but hopefully that’ll be in the subtext.
  • Battle speeches. If you don’t have big muscles, an athletic background, or pro athlete friends, don’t worry. You can give your students a speech worthy of Patton. Use words like “rally cry” and “impending battle” and “chosen generation.” Talk about waving banners and storming castles. When possible, make analogies to manly movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, or Lord of the Rings4. Speaking of which…
  • Use a manly prop. I have seen a youth pastor pull out a broadsword when talking about the Bible, holding it aloft like Link finding a treasure. I’ve even seen a pastor drag two tree trunks and an axe on stage and build a cross during his talk. But these are just two ideas–the possibilities are limitless. Maybe dress as a knight for the armor of God? Or do a live sling demonstration for David and Goliath?
  • Adopt aggressive body posture. If all else fails, pace back and forth, arch your back, snarl your words, boom your voice, and glare into the eyes of the teenage boys. Look like you want to fight. BE the alpha male.

Okay, I’ll get off my cynicism box now. Here’s some (hopefully) constructive comments.

(Hopefully) Constructive Comments

First, lots of youth pastors don’t do this. It’s usually a sign of a good youth pastor: he cares more about helping his students than impressing them. It also means he’s comfortable with himself–which is also a good sign. For example, my high school youth pastor was comfortable enough to share that he owned every ‘N Sync CD5.

Second, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with manliness in itself. Some youth pastors aren’t posing–they’re just naturally macho. And that’s fine. Also, I’ve seen youth pastors use “manly” tactics to genuinely get the attention of high schoolers for important messages. That’s great too. I’m not criticizing manliness–I’m criticizing the pretense of it.

And that leads to a theme that I’ll be harping on a lot during this series: pendulums. Over the past several decades, evangelicals have had a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other on manliness. Jesus is either a meek and mild lamb, or he’s William Wallace. There are other options.

But I’ll talk more about that later. For now, I just hope none of you think advocating for moderation is unmanly….

Does anybody else notice youth pastors trying to act macho? Does this matter, or am I making a big deal out of nothing?


1  Hi, Pastor Rob!

2  I’m allowed to say that because I used to be one.

3  At least, that’s what they wore in my day. I don’t know what youth pastors these days are wearing…

4  Again, these were movies from when I was a teenager. I’m guessing the movies now are, I don’t know…Transformers 5? Batman v Superman? The Lego Movie? They sure don’t make manly movies like they used to…

5  Wait, was I not supposed to say that? Sorry, Pastor Rob…

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