Pathos And Youth Ministry (Or, Being An Old Youth Minister)

The pathos of adolescence is the raw material of youth ministry. Teenagers feel differently than adults do–more immediately, more intensely, and without the moderating influence of experience and perspective. Their joy is more joyous and the despair more despondent. I know this. I have worked with youth in one capacity or another for almost 20 years. Also, I was one.

Some youth workers match the emotional pitch of teenagers with stunning precision. They seem to be up to their elbows in pathos and possessed of boundless energy. I am grateful for them, even as I recognize that I am not them.

I don’t really do pathos anymore.

Ministry with youth for those of us 20 years or more removed from the adolescent experience doesn’t have to be fueled by the same emotional identification with teenagers as it was earlier in our careers. Our declining gusto for the mountaintops and valleys of the teenage experience is an asset. The challenge for us is to own our age and perspective and not to somehow keep pathos alive. Teenagers need adults with some distance from the intensity of their experience as much as they need adults who can immediately relate to it.

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