Pay It Backward

In Discipleship, Leadership by Dan Istvanik0 Comments

The phrase “Pay It Forward” has become such a mainstay of our cultural vocabulary and even our church-speech as well. Thanks in part to the year 2000 movie of the same name; everyone understands the concept and idea when we say those words. There is even a foundation that helps people “pay forward” good things to others around the world

I love the idea and concept. The whole premise of doing something good not be repaid, but so that someone else will do something kind to the next person. I however would like to tweak the concept slightly in the youth ministry context. I would like to challenge you to “pay it backward!”
After doing youth ministry for over 20 years, I still remember being at the smaller church in town. I clearly recall looking at my tiny youth budget wishing I had a bit extra to buy a resource or a game supply. I even think back to times walking through the big youth ministry convention exhibit hall looking at all the shiny new youth ministry toys, gadgets, and technology making a mental wish list. Even more I remember being a young youth pastor sitting alone in my office with no one to call, email or ask advice about the next big thing on my calendar.

A few years back as God blessed me in youth ministry. I decided that I would not forget those moments. I decided that I would turn around and in any way I could pass the blessing backward down to others in the youth ministry trenches who could not bless me back but also may not even be able to bless someone else either. There are so many first time youth workers, bi-vocational youth workers, and just straight volunteer youth workers that are doing so much for the kingdom with little or no resources. They also may not have anyone to turn to at their church or in their area to ask for advice, prayer, or just an ear to bounce ideas off of.

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”Luke 3:11
I am not however just writing to the small percentage of us that have the honor to be at a little bigger place or have the amazing opportunity to be paid full-time. I am writing to everyone and anyone in youth ministry. No matter who you are and where you are at, there is someone a few weeks newer and a few dollars shorter than you. We all have lessons we have taught, that we are not going to teach again for years. We all have a game that we played that we are not going to play again anytime soon, so the supplies are going to sit in a closet collecting dust. We have file folders; physical or virtual, of things we have created for our ministries that are not going to be used again maybe ever.

I think it is time for all of us to Pay It Backward in youth ministry. Turn around and look for person behind you that was where you were even a week ago that could use the things you have to advance God’s Kingdom. Through online social media communities like this one and others share more than your opinion or a question, share your BEST stuff. Create a local network of youth workers to share life with, pray with, and even borrow game supplies from. Look around your community and take a person at another church in town smaller than you out to coffee with no agenda. You have done all planning and the work to plan a retreat already, look up a volunteer-lead ministry with just a couple kids and invite them to join you.

We teach verses like Luke 3:11 to our students when it comes to social justice and missional living. We can also live that verse out in the way we choose to minister to each other in youth ministry.


DAN ISTVANIK is the 7th and 8th grade pastor at Burke Community Church in northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and now Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Junior High Minstry.Org, Pre-Teen Ministry.Net, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, hints and “ran-dumb” thoughts on his own blog “The JH Uth Guy” at: