One of the difficulties in ministry is the pressure, both internal and external, to be something you are not called to be in order to generate “success” in your church. I was reminded of this as I read an article that presented the idea of Jimmy Fallon as a youth pastor. While the article was both helpful and served as a good example of learning from culture, it also made me think of other ways we as youth pastors, or any other ministry leader for that matter, can feel the pressure to conform to a “Fallon Philosophy” of ministry. At the end of the day, this “Fallon Philosophy” is an unhelpful fallacy.
THREE COMMON FALLACIES IN YOUTH MINISTRY
Fallacy 1: You have to be an entertainer.
False. You have to be a shepherd.
One of the constant pressures I see in student ministry is to be entertainment driven. A fellow youth pastor told me last week about a parent who made the comment to the tune of, “It’s your job to make church fun so my kid wants to come.”
Fallon is an entertainer. He puts on a great show. At the end of the night though, when the lights go off and the people go home, he doesn’t really have to think about them again. Each week is a new audience while his loyal watchers, most of which he will never meet, will tune in from home. In Jesus’ restoration to Peter in John 21, he doesn’t seem concerned with Peter’s desire to be a showman, but a shepherd. In Acts 20 when Paul addresses the elders of the church in Ephesus, he tells them that it is the Holy Spirit who has made them shepherds, not of merely a live weekly audience, but of the church that Jesus bought with his own blood.
As youth pastors, the Holy Spirit hasn’t called us to entertain the flock, but to love them, feed them, and guard them. This doesn’t mean we can’t be entertaining, it just shouldn’t be our main priority. I would be lying if I said I haven’t used any of Fallon’s late night games. I’m also not saying we shouldn’t strive for excellence or creativity. Games, activities, and events can provide helpful settings and atmospheres to build relationships, break barriers, and reach out to students. But if you are not a boisterous personality with all the latest and greatest ideas and attractions — that doesn’t make you a poor pastor.
Fallacy 2 : You have to be a comedian.
False. You have to be a teacher.
If you frequently watch Fallon’s show, you expectantly watch, waiting to laugh at his wit and comedic style. I generally feel the same when I take students to camp. I am a pro-camp student pastor assuming it’s done well. But sometimes I sinfully envy the winsomeness and humor that camp speakers seem to naturally excel at (except Paul Washer that one time). I can tend to criticize my own preaching because I’m not always the best to come up with funny sermon illustrations that trigger a roar of laughter that would challenge Tim Hawkins. However, I’m encouraged when I read through the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-10. I don’t see “has to be a comedian” on the list. What I do see is that qualified pastors must have the ability to teach and what they teach is sound doctrine.
As Shepherds, we feed the sheep by giving them God’s Word. We guard them by protecting them from distortions of God’s Word. We love them by giving advice and counsel from God’s Word. I love the sentiment of a friend of mine who said, “It’s a sin to make the Bible boring.” However, I have believed the lie that the way this is done is by me being a comedian and rock star communicator. I have discouraged myself by thinking my effectiveness as a preacher hinged only on my comedic and storytelling ability.
If you excel at humor, praise God for that. Storytelling, illustrations, and comedic moments can certainly play an important part in a sermon. I about fell out of my seat — both in surprise and laughter — at Midwestern’s Ready Conference when Jared C. Wilson said “boobs” during a sermon illustration. (I know. My youth pastor is showing. Watch the sermon here). Part of why it was so funny was because he would never describe himself as the “youth camp funny guy,” yet in this sermon he articulated the Gospel to students so well while providing some comedic relief. However, if this isn’t your strength, don’t think that you are unqualified to pastor students. If you can teach God’s Word and preach the truth of the Gospel, then you are qualified. Let’s not make the Bible boring to students. But the opposite of a boring sermon isn’t necessarily a funny sermon.
Fallacy 3: Your greatest concern is ratings.
False. Your greatest concern is faithfulness to God.
A T.V. show is only worth its air time if it’s drawing an audience — no matter the content. If “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” tanks in ratings, it will be canceled. The content is driven by what the viewer wants. This is a dangerous mentality to have in any kind of ministry. Sheep don’t tell the shepherd where to go. The shepherd leads the sheep and he should be leading them not on his own, but in obedience to the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. 1 Peter 5 reminds us that the flock is not ours but God’s and our shepherding is according to God’s will. In verse 4, we see the approval rating we look towards is not from the flock, but from the Chief Shepherd.
I heard a pastor once say that many of us chant Isaiah 6:8 like a battle cry at a pep rally ready to be sent by God, but never read on to see the difficult ministry Isaiah had just signed himself up for. If Isaiah’s greatest concern was what people thought of him, he wouldn’t have been faithful to God. Numbers in ministry aren’t unimportant, but they can never be most important. If a student ministry is driven by numbers, convictions will become concessions to please palates that hunger and thirst for lesser pleasures.
While I think there are some great things we can learn from Jimmy Fallon, I know I have also bought into some false qualifications when I think of him as an ideal youth pastor. My relationships with other youth pastors lead me to believe that I’m not alone in this improper self-evaluation and having these expectations placed on me by parents and church members. If you aren’t the most entertaining, the most comedic, or the most liked, be encouraged and know those things alone don’t disqualify you from being an effective pastor to students and the church. Actually, we should be warned that if we buy into these fallacies, that is when we will find ourselves being less effective youth pastors.
Brock Caldwell is the Associate Pastor of Youth and Children at Gashland Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. He and his wife Megan have been married for two years. Brock is an MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has a B.A. in Christian Studies from Southwest Baptist University with an emphasis in youth ministry.
Follow Brock on Twitter: @brockcaldwell