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Losing Empathy In Youth Ministry: Can Youth Pastors Eventually Stop Caring?

Real world youth ministry is messy, raw and sometimes very heartbreaking to see the pain of today’s teen.  Youth ministry can be really painful if you truly empathize with hurting students.  Youth pastors that open their own humanity to student are making the students’ suffering their suffering.

The Problem:  There is a tendency that the longer youth pastors are in youth ministry, the less emphatic they become towards today’s teens.  Recent studies show that medical students score progressively lower on empathy tests the further they get into their training and medical practice.  Both doctors and pastor are called to help the hurting.  Do you think this same study on medical students is true for pastors who work with students?  Can training and experience be a cause for NOT showing empathy? 

Think about it…..a veteran youth worker has seen and heard it all so it may be easier not to care as a way to cope.  Or the youth pastor is disenfranchised with the church system and doesn’t believe the church can offer up true healing for today’s teens.

My Questions:  Can the church literally beat empathy out of youth workers? What are some causes that cause youth pastors not to care?  Can youth pastor for whatever reason stop caring and not show students mercy?  Why in the church world it is so much easier to pretend like you care?  How can youth pastors keep empathy while working in youth ministry?

My Final Thoughts:  I love hanging around with younger and newer youth pastors because they care so much!!!  They are fresh out of training or are in their first ministry assignment and they are so fired up!  I decided very early on in my youth ministry career that I would never turn away from students’ suffering.  I side with Andrew Root’s (Andy is a Youth Ministry Prof at Luther Theological Seminary) thinking in Relationships Unfiltered.  Andy states:  One of the goals of youth ministry is to be human beings who seek to be human with and for others in the power of God who has become human for us all.

I am VERY curious:  Can experienced and seasoned youth pastors eventually stop caring?


About Jeremy Zach

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

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  1. Jeremy, great article and thought. Let me first say that I do think it is important that we emphasize and not only sympathize with students. There is a difference, and we must have a balance! It is tough though, because sometimes you get burnt out and frustrated with students, and sometimes you are overly caring for them. That is where balance comes in.

  2. I’ve been in youth ministry for over 16 years and will admit that this can happen if you’re not careful. Part of it is true with almost any job. After doing the same thing over and over, year after year… It becomes easy to just “do what needs to be done.” I also believe that a lot of it could be a result of the church leadership’s focus. If the primary goal of the church is numbers, butts in the seats, then eventually it will catch up with you. We must focus on the hearts of the teens, not their presence. I ask myself almost every day, “Why am I doing what I do?”

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