Are teens too dependent on youth pastors?

Jen Bradbury
Nov 14 · 5 min read

In a recent episode of The Biggest Loser , the time came to reshuffle the teams in order to force contestants to not only work with new teammates, but also with new trainers.

Every year, contestants face this Biggest Loser milestone with fear, apprehensive over the thought of being separated from the trainer they've come to depend on to get healthy. This year's contestants were no different.

One, in particular, was nearly inconsolable at being separated from her trainer. One shot showed her biking in the gym, head down, with her new trainer at her side as she described how difficult it was to watch her old trainer work with her new team.

As I watched this I couldn't help but think how unhealthy this seems.

Do trainers – especially since they so often attempt to be their contestants' therapists – create unhealthy dependencies between themselves and their contestants?

When finally separated from their trainer – whether it be because the teams have been reshuffled or because they've been sent home – will contestants be able to continue losing weight? Or is their weight loss dependent on their trainer?

As I watched this episode, I couldn't help but think what someone would see if they turned my youth ministry into a reality TV show.

Would TV viewers see the same unhealthy dependencies between myself and my teens that I'm quick to condemn on The Biggest Loser?

Would people wonder if, when finally separated from me, my teens would be able to continue growing in their faith? Would they think the faith of my teens was too dependent on mine?

I certainly hope not.

Just as Biggest Loser trainers seek to prepare their contestants for a healthy life after the show, I, too, want to prepare my teens for a healthy spiritual life post youth group. To do so, here are a few things I do to foster their spiritual independence.

1. I involve (and elevate) other adult leaders. A healthy team of leaders helps ensure that no single leader becomes the dominant force in our ministry.

2. Like the trainers in The Biggest Loser, I give teens tools they can use to foster their spiritual growth – independent of me or other adult leaders. A key part of this is that we dig into and investigate Scripture every time we meet. That way teens are learning how to engage with Scripture at the same time they're developing a faith based on God's truth (and not just the opinions of adult leaders).

3. I direct teens to Jesus. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians, I want teens to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In all things, I want to point teens to Jesus so they're clear they have one Savior and it's not me.

As I sat chronicling the things I do to foster independence in my teens, I must admit I was encouraged by the end of this episode of The Biggest Loser. Despite her initial apprehension, the woman who was nearly inconsolable about switching trainers went on to lose a massive amount of weight. Switching trainers actually proved to be incredibly good for her.

May the same be true of our teens.

May our teens continue to grow in their faith long after they leave our youth ministries and our daily care.

And ultimately, may they put their trust in Jesus – the one who will never leave or forsake them.