A youth ministry friend of mine read an article that stated the sweet spot for a youth pastor’s age is between twenty-two and twenty-four years old. Here is the reasoning. For youth pastors under twenty-two, students may see them as too close to their age, and not view them as an authority figure. Those over twenty-four are already considered by students to be too old and out of touch. I didn't read this article, so I do not know the primary thought this author was trying to convey. However, I do know that when I was a twenty year old youth pastor, a student asked me to prom. I had to explain that it would be a bit inappropriate (now you know why I grow a full beard and dress like a grandpa). When I was twenty-four a student referred to her twenty year old cousin as a “dinosaur” (Jr. Highers have a way of making everyone feel old). I guess the author might have been on to something. Even so, hearing an argument for a youth pastor’s influence being based on age really frustrated me. I spent five years in college to prepare for a career in youth ministry. I may not be great at math, but I do recognize that spending five years preparing for a career with a two year long sweet spot doesn't add up.
Here is why it frustrates me even more. Not every church needs a youth pastor…but every church needs a Tim.
Tim Hanson is not what most youth would call “cool”, but he is awe inspiring (now, in case that came across as a backhanded compliment…I’m no longer “cool” either. I’m a “dinosaur”…and you probably are too). Tim does not know what the hottest indie band is. He does not know what the best movie in theaters is, he can’t tell you about last week’s SNL sketches, he doesn't play video games, and he has never tweeted. Tim is not what the millennial generation full of aesthetic savvy hipsters would call “culturally relevant”. Tim is something much better than culturally relevant—he is critically relevant. Here is why: love is always relevant, and it is always critical. Here is a truth I have learned. Students don’t care how cool you are. They are starving for love, and if you’ll give love to them, they will invite you into their lives. Love opens doors, and often that open door allows Christ to enter a student’s life and do His transforming work there.
Tim has been doing youth ministry longer than I have been alive (by a decade and then some). Several months ago, when we asked the students who one of the most influential people in their life is, many said Tim Hanson. I think it is because Tim actually cares about students. He takes the time to talk with them, and to know what’s going on in their lives. Because Tim isn't “cool”, he is not afraid to give a teenager a hug. Teenagers need hugs.
I am guessing that Tim never wrote a philosophy of ministry. He just loves students and deeply desires that they know Jesus. Students know his love for them, and they know his love for Jesus.
I would be a much different youth pastor if it weren't for Tim, and I guarantee I wouldn't be as good of one. I am so thankful for Tim. I hope I never use my cool quotient and my cultural relevance (or lack thereof) as an excuse to not be critically relevant in another’s life. Students live surrounded by what’s cool every moment of every day. What they long to be surrounded by is love. The sweet spot for youth ministry isn't an age; it’s a heart that loves.