School, Sports, and Pastoral Care in Youth Ministry

By Guest Author

“I’m sorry. I think I misheard. Could you say that again?” I asked the still relative stranger sitting across from me at the coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon.

In February, our church said goodbye to its long-time pastor who left to attend to another ministry and his next God-given calling. By September, the hiring process already produced the church’s next pastor who immediately began meeting with his new staff. So, I, being the part-time youth minister of this small congregation, found myself meeting my new pastor and boss in a coffee shop (a strange and anxious place to be for a non-coffee drinker such as myself).

As we talked about myself, my schoolwork, the youth ministry, and church responsibilities, I asked the newly hired pastor, “so, on what day of the week are you planning on doing hospital visitation?” At this time, I figured it mainly routine for pastors to carve away time in the week specifically for attending to pastoral care in hospitals and nursing homes, aside from the sudden emergencies that awake a pastor from the nightstand at 1:00am. If I was to make a good impression on this new pastor, perhaps it would be good to show my desire to be helpful in also participating in hospital visitation. Not wanting to overlap with each other, I asked for his personal direction in pastoral care. His response left me in disbelief.

“What do you mean ‘hospital visits?’” He asked, almost off-put that such a thing would even be in his job description.

“You know, what day of the week are you going to spend checking on the church members who might be sick in the hospital?” I rephrased.

“Most of my weekly schedule is carved out for sermon preparation. Hospital visits are not a part of that.”

“I’m sorry. I think I misheard. Could you say that again?”

Apparently, this new pastor did not care to emphasize an entire side of the pastoral care process that I viewed as essential. How could something of this importance slip through the hiring process and the questions of the search committee? Was this really the type of person who I was going to work for? I quickly learned over the next few months that this new hire did not work out well for me. By only four months later, I was asked by the new pastor to give in my resignation due to irreconcilable differences in practice of theology and ministry.

On the bright side, I learned an important lesson on including pastoral care in my ministry that day. Thankfully, God also called me to a new ministry where I have the pleasure of serving with a lead pastor who goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to hospital visitations and general care and concern for the congregation which he serves.

Youth ministry does not include many visits to the hospital to check on ailing students. Usually, I check up on students with injuries like a broken arm, surgeries such as having wisdom teeth removal, or just being sick with the flu. Typically, such things do not require a trip to the hospital or time spent in the waiting room. Youth students aside, I have visited many of our church members in their hospital rooms in the last few years. They may not be the students that I serve most often in church ministry, but these visits are about church family nonetheless. Hospital visits probably do not occur as often in youth ministry as they do in other ministerial roles in the church.

So, what is pastoral care in youth ministry?

David K. Switzer contends that care for another becomes pastoral when that care is “an expression of the whole life and purpose of the Christian community.”[1] Pastoral care does not just occur when a minister or deacon visits the sick or hurting in the hospital or at the nursing home. Care should not be limited to only the low moments of a person’s life. Pastoral care addresses the entirety of a person’s life in relation to the community of faith and fellowship that is found in Jesus Christ.

While hospital visitation occurs less often in youth ministry than in other leadership roles, youth ministers still engage in pastoral care all the time. If pastoral care in youth ministry is to include a holistic concern for the life of a particular youth student, this means being present in what that youth student finds important for his/her life.

Youth ministers may not visit the hospital as much as their Senior Pastor, but we go to football, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and soccer games because our kids are there doing the thing that they love. We go to choir and band concerts, art shows, rodeos, stock shows, and cringey Jr. High theater productions. Visits to graduation parties, birthdays, award ceremonies, and potluck meals all happened because we care about the entirety of the lives of our students. Pastoral care in youth ministry should not just happen when the students need encouragement such as before an important test or with broken arms. Pastoral care in youth ministry also means showing up to what is important for the students so that they may see how much they are loved by their church family and by Christ.

Youth ministers, if you are wondering how you may start the journey of pastoral care, the good news is that you have already started! Continue by being present with your students in both their good and bad days, whether this looks like attending a football game or walking the hallways of the hospital. If you ever feel overwhelmed by the calling of pastoral care, just take a moment to pause and reflect. As Robert Creech says in Family Systems and Congregational Life, “knowing ourselves and our families can be a big step toward being able to care for others more effectively.”[2]

[1] David K. Switzer, Pastoral Care Emergencies (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 13.

[2] R. Robert Creech, Family Systems and Congregational Life: A Map for Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), 86.