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Worker vs. Minister

Trailblazing-Postcard-Reverse-MockupIt may not be a matchup you’ll find on the next MMA pay-per-view, but it’s still a bit of a battle. Who are we exactly – are we youth workers or youth ministers?

Over the past few months, members of the Youth Initiatives Team have been working hard to prepare online theological training modules for youth workers. These modules, or “trails” will be launching this fall under the name Trailblazing: Theological Formation for Youth Ministry. It’s an exciting time.

And yet, as we’ve been testing the modules, an interesting linguistic problem has come up, and I’m trying to sort it out. How does the average parishioner working amongst youth view him- or herself? Is he a youth worker? Is she a youth minister?

The question has direct relevance to the project, but also to the broader ministry of the church. While each of us has a ministry, while each of us is called by God to minister in various ways and in various places (no matter our work or place in life), we struggle to identify these things as ministries.

When it comes to working amongst youth in the parish context, there is almost an implicit division between trained “ministers” and volunteer “workers.” What is it that causes some to think of themselves as ministers, and others to think of themselves as workers?

And perhaps more importantly, what does this distinction suggest about the ministry of all the baptized?

About Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Andrew is an Anglican lay leader who loves pioneering responsive, contextual solutions to the challenge of being church in the 21st Century. He serves as an assistant to the rector for Evangelism and Christian Formation at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver and is a founding member of the emerging St. Brigids community (

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12 Responses to Worker vs. Minister

  1. Kyle Norman

    When I first started out as a youth worker I started using the titles “Youth Pastor” or “Youth Minister” to refer to myself. The clergy I was working with took me aside and said to me (I believe correctly) ‘In our context, the words Pastor and Minister denote specific ordination. Please use the term ‘head of youth ministry, or Youth worker.” I took the correction, and made the change.

    I would still hold to this. Frankly, there are a lot of youth workers (I was one) who have no formal education ministry or theology, and so using the term ‘Pastor’ or “MInister’ is a bit of a mis-nomer in Anglican circles. I have requested that our youth worker use appropriate terms to refer to her role in the church. She is “Family and youth ministry coordinator.”

    However . . .I do believe we should ordain youth workers. I would be in complete support of ordaining someone who has the appropriate support, education, and calling to the permanent diaconate for work in Youth Ministry – just as we do so for hospital, prison, care-homes, and street ministry.

  2. Interesting, Kyle. When I worked in youth ministry during seminary, my rector and I agreed that “pastor” would be an appropriate term–because it really had no meaning in our community. What I hadn’t considered at the time is that we made that decision after the Waterloo declaration, when Anglicans moved into a full communion relationship with Evangelical Lutherans. Lutherans that called their congregational leaders “pastor.”

    So as far as I see it, the term pastor is out, due to our full communion relationship. But I think minister is quite appropriate: after all, we have lay Eucharistic ministers and the like. They are ministers, and they do ministry. If we truly believe that youth ministry is ministry, then we should be honest about those who we lift up to that leadership: youth ministers. But yes, I see no reason why the same people shouldn’t be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate, depending on their call.

  3. Would the term pastor really be out?

    Whatever the case, Christian youth work includes a significant component of pastoral care, and presumably, an invitation of young people into the life of the church. The question that I think is more necessary to address is why or whether we think it’s a good idea that our youth workers receive no theological or pastoral training. That IS a huge deficit in our work, and one that needs to be addressed at the local level, as well as at a systemic level.

    Our youth workers, along with the families of young people are some of the biggest spiritual influences on the lives of youth themselves. If we are not training youth workers in theological reflection, what can we expect “the results” of such ministry to look like. I do wish that local pastors and priests would make it their business to provide theological training / formation for their youth workers as a part of their work. In the absence of that, I’m glad there will be other resources available, and in short order.

  4. Fair enough: youth worker=pastoral ministry. But the reality is that we’re in a full communion relationship with the #ELCIC (some of whom are part of this online community), and that for our Lutheran siblings, pastor=ordained. So what do we do with that?

    I’ve heard the word “lay pastor” thrown around (sometimes in reference to an already-placed-seminarian awaiting ordination). Thoughts?

    • I appreciate this conversation. While in Lutheran circles, Pastor does indeed denote one who has been called, trained and ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, there is a wider use of the ‘title’.

      Contextually, I serve a two point rural parish. Our closest Lutheran neighbor is a congregation that is served by a ‘Lay Pastor’, a man with no formal training, who has led a struggling rural congregation for over 17 years. While he is not a ‘pastor’ in the traditional sense of the title for Lutherans – he certainly is their pastoral leader. As such, I quite support his title of ‘lay pastor’. (I should also note that there are some, in Lutheran circles, who are quite opposed to the opinion I have just expressed)

      All this to say that, in my opinion, I would still stick with the title of ‘Youth Pastor’. Like ‘Lay Pastor’, the title ‘Youth Pastor’ denotes someone who serves as a pastoral leader, though not ordained. I personally like the idea of broadening the understanding of ‘pastor’ or ‘priest’ to include those who serve the church in a pastoral role, as well as those who serve as ordained clergy.

  5. I am Youth Minister at my church, and I am a lay leader. My title was chosen in collaboration with my church’s clergy and a youth ministry expert in our community (a professor of youth ministry with 25+ years of Anglican youth ministry). The name “Minister” was included because my job is to be a minister of the gospel to the youth in our church.

    In my understanding, “Youth Worker” denotes more of a social-work role, working toward freedom from addiction, healthy life choices, etc. If I were working in a secular context, I would probably prefer this title as it would better reflect the nature of the work. However, I have found that in my parish context, “Youth Minister” is better because it speaks to the central focus on spiritual formation.

    (I think this question needs to be answered in the context of your own church. The clergy in my church — St. Aidan Anglican, Moose Jaw — welcomed me as a lay-partner in ministry. “Youth Pastor” was the original title for my role, but members of the church found “Pastor” to sound too Evangelical for our context, so Youth “Minister” was chosen.)

    • Luke – Thanks for your contextually-rooted response. I really appreciate the work that your community did to ensure that the work focuses on Spiritual Formation, and that the title reflects that aspect of your ministry. Sweet!

      I wish that more churches were that intentional in creating positions (and mentoring people for roles) that focus on Christian formation. Any tips for us on how to make that happen?


  6. Judy Steers

    As we come closer towards a launch date for “Trailblazing”, I think I am gravitating towards “Theological Formation for Youth Ministry” because that is an all-encompassing term for the varied ways in which we engage youth in the faith community. Youth Ministry is – Camp, Congregational life, Events such as Youth Synod or Youth Conference, National events such as CLAY or Justice Camp, Campus ministry, Community outreach…and so much more. I think it is a matter of choice of a particular location or context as to what someone is called in their context (Worker, Missioner, Coordinator, Minister, Pastor, Leader), but what we all do is the practice of Youth Ministry.

    • Right on, everyone. I think Judy’s observation is important – there are different kinds of youth ministry, and different kinds of youth ministers (I still think “minister” may be the safest all-inclusive word, because at least according to Anglican canons and such, it’s a word for the ministry of all believers, not the ordained).

      And in that light, I should note that another person at #JointAssembly thanked me for mentioning that a) there should be room for ordained youth ministers, and b) ordination should not be a requirement for youth ministry. As with all ministry, “all can, some should, none must.” But that being said (and perhaps this is for another discussion), how would youth ministers of different calls/orders relate with one another and the world around them?

    • Afra Saskia Tucker

      Judy: now I’m really curious: what’s Trailblazing??? I’m a bit of a newcomer to the topic of youth ministry, but trying to keep my ear to the ground. I’m also curious about Jesse’s question, but I wouldn’t even know where to start to try to formulate an answer to that one!

      • Afra – Glad you asked! Trailblazing is an online learning program to equip youth workers (ministers?) with solid theological grounding for all aspects of their ministry.

        The program will consist of a series of learning modules or ‘trails’ for individuals or groups to follow through readings, videos, music, reflections and discussions.

        We’re starting from the assumption that many youth workers have little background in theology, but really want to do good and meaningful ministry in their context. As participants engage with the material, they’ll be able to hone their skills in applying theological reflection to how they do youth ministry.

  7. isnt this interesting. i think the reality of how we often title our youth ministers is as the youth ‘person’ which completely strips out the ministry of their work.

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