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The Youth Pastor’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Youth Ministry

(Man’s X-Ray Heart photo brought to you by:  Copyright All rights reserved by Xploiтєя ™)

Romans 12:11
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (NIV)
Lately I have been thinking about my own personal youth ministry journey.  I have been thinking about:
–  the many great students and families that were a part of past youth ministries who impacted me
–  the people (ministry leaders, parents, students) who hurt me
–  the many pastors and leaders I have served with that taught me a lot about ministry and life
–  the different church contexts I served in that taught me about the importance of contextualization

However, during my reflection, I kept asking: In the midst of one’s youth ministry journey, what keeps a youth pastor passionately moving forward?

A possible answer is: the youth ministry journey is as emotional as it is spiritual.

The more years a youth pastor gets under his/her youth ministry belt, the easier it is to lose empathy for Jesus, students, and the church.  Repetition, pain, fatigue, cynicism, and jadedness tend to leak water on the fire. Remember those first years of youth ministry and how amped you were to be serving the kids and church?

Most youth workers will at some point have a few tough seasons in the church world.  Plus, it is really hard to keep a fresh and passionate perspective when you have seen and heard it all.   Nothing is new. There is no excitement, movement, or passion for what originally got all of us involved in youth ministry.

One of the most important factors when working in the world of youth ministry is having heart!


Honestly I got my first paid youth ministry gig because I had zeal.  I should have never gotten it.  There were tons of more qualified applicants.  I had no experience in youth ministry, I was only attending church for about 2 consecutive years, I was really young, I never did a youth ministry internship, I never read a youth ministry book, I had a very weak theology and ecclesiology, I was soooo unfamiliar with church culture, and I was way too preppy and still stuck in my college jock-frat days.  But for some reason the Associate Pastor that hired me didn’t care.  I asked him after the interview process why he hired me.  He said, “I believe in you because you have a fire for Jesus that is rare and you are our guy to revitalize this youth group.”

In order to make it in youth ministry you cannot lose heart.  Ministry education, experience, talent, and technique can only get a youth pastor so far.  There are too many distractions in church youth ministry that can easily and instantly kill the zeal of a youth pastor.


Charles Spurgeon described zeal as:

Having sleepless hours, weeping eyes and bursting hearts for the lost. The heart is heavy with grief and vehement in desire, yet with holy ardour it pants for God’s glory.

Martin Luther had zeal because:

He was in it up to his neck, and always on the verge of ‘losing it’ in his zeal to reform the Catholic Church.

Paul had a zealous attitude because:

He had a courageous, joyful resignation to the will of God. Because he was crucified to the world and its pleasures, he didn’t count his life dear to himself, but joyfully finished the course God set for him.


I can truthfully say the only thing that has kept me in youth ministry is my insane passion for Jesus and students.  Having heart means you repeatedly get right back up (while smiling) and continue to faithfully do youth ministry.

I think this next generation needs to hear more about how Jesus has changed and is changing our lives.  Passionately talking about how Jesus has transformed our lives should never get old.  Plus it may light some old fire in our ministering soul.

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.

– Vince Lombardi




About Jeremy Zach

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

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  1. I think zeal comes and goes in seasons. Sometimes we can be all revved up, and sometimes we’re just tired. I think zeal is good, but I’m not sure we can rely too much on our emotions. Spiritual zeal is good, because it relies on the Holy Spirit, not on us.

    Also, just to balance this out: “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (Proverbs 19:2, NIV-1984). I suggest a balance of head and heart make the best combination.

    Thanks for this post, good thoughts!

    • Agreed. There needs to be a tri-balance of: logos, pathos, and ethos.

      As I was reflecting back…. I kept asking: what was the “1 thing” that got me through? Out of the logos, pathos, and ethos, what one was superior?

      Your suggestion is a very dualistic (head/heart) understanding, which is a Greek way to approach zeal. I rather adopt more of a Hebrew understanding of the heart. The Hebrew understanding of the heart is the fusion of mind and heart. Again….these are my reflections and not mere conclusions. I am an emotional dude. All my personality profiles point in that direction. So I am going to trust my heart, before my head. Heart is not only an emotion, but a determination of will. I also say we have to at least pay attention to our emotions as we minster because our emotions are giving us signals of what is happening inside our body and brains.

      Lastly, we are working with a generation who are “feelers”. So the more we get our students to experience something, the better. I can relay information all day long to my students but without translation and passion it is very likely they will tune out.

  2. Are there still days when the fire just isn’t there? Or are you just always zealous? For me, it ebbs and flows, but I wish it didn’t. On the days when “I’m just not feeling it,” I feel as if I’ve failed. It can be caused by everything from not getting enough rest to discouragement, which are all controllables, but I still wish I didn’t let it happen.
    Thanks for the encouragement, though. Here’s hoping I’m never that burned out old dude instead I’m that crazy old guy that loves Jesus and students more than he did when he was young.

    • Yeah, like anyone I have my ups and downs.
      I am not talking about drumming up some fake zealous behavior for Jesus.
      I am talking about how a youth worker should respond when they are
      in the down and dark seasons. During the dark and down days, I would make sure to be really intentional about staying motivated and not getting depressed. We have over a 1000 of “emotional” neurons firing in our brains and to make it worse a lot of those neurons are sending negative messages.

      For me, it comes down to learning how to control my emotions and re-direct them to work for you when you are down. This is where the Holy Spirit comes into play.

      I have studied a little bit on warfare psychology and how the military branches teach their soliders to maintain their mental cool in the midst of negative circumstances. For example during BUD/s (the Navy Seal’s bootcamp) they basically break down the mind to really see what the individual is made of– this is where will and heart come into play. Their aim is get the individual to discover what is possible when you are down in the dumps.

      Life and ministry is not always nice, neat, and pretty….which calls for one to really focus and press through on the “why” we are called to do what we are called to do.

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