“This church doesn’t want a youth minister; they want a babysitter!”

More than once, these words have fallen from my lips. And though we may say it differently, with words like,

  • “All these people care about is increasing their kids’ SAT scores and helping them be lacrosse team captains,”
  • “The last thing that church wants is a youth ministry that makes disciples,”

the predictable complaint is the same: “This church wants a babysitter!”

But lately I’ve been wondering, “Just how justified is this criticism that flows like infallible doctrine from the mouths of so many youth workers?” In my wondering search, I think I may have stumbled upon a few ideas that might give us a handle on breaking the babysitter syndrome. It’s a little something I call

A Sure-Fire Formula for Keeping Your Church Stuck in a Babysitter Mentality

1. Distinguishing Between Yourself and Those People.

The youth workers who cry “Babysitter!” the loudest are often those who have drawn a sharp line between their churches and themselves. If you want to keep your church stuck in a babysitter mentality, never use words like “our” and “us.”

Instead talk about the decisions “the church” makes, about the ridiculous ideas that “they” have. This approach will keep you from ever having to build a real friendship with one of them (parents, elders or senior pastors) and prevent you from ever having to waste time asking them about their “babysitter” expectations. Talk about your concerns only with your students, who will understand you best and seldom question your antagonism toward the institution that pays your salary.

2. Avoid Visioning

If you want to keep your church’s babysitter mentality alive, never meet with stakeholders in the church to clarify their vision for youth ministry. In the dozens of visioning retreats I have led over the past few years, there has never once been a church that intentionally decided to have a youth ministry that was anywhere close to “babysitting.”

When church leaders clarify their vision, the babysitter syndrome is in serious jeopardy. So, as the leader of the youth ministry, you can best protect the babysitter mentality by going straight to your office, writing your own youth ministry mission statement (one borrowed from a popular youth ministry book will do) and putting it in a file drawer.

Never Stop the Blamestorming

Since we get what we focus on in life and ministry, the only way you can be assured that the babysitter mentality stays entrenched in your ministry will be to continue blaming as many people around you as possible for failures in your ministry. Keeping yourself the victim of the church, its leaders, and the parents will go a long way to protect the babysitter syndrome from any forces that might threaten it.

I admit it. Protecting your church’s babysitter mentality will take a lot of work. But by vigilantly following these three steps, you can be sure it will stay around for a long, long time.

(First published in Group Magazine, 2007)

Mark DeVries is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects (www.ymarchitects.com), a consulting group dedicated to building sustainable youth ministries, one church at a time. For the past 21 years, Mark has also served as the youth pastor at his church in Tennessee.

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