Youth Minister Longevity. It’s a thing. There are books, blogs, statistics and other resources informing you how to last longer in your youth ministry job. Are you burned out? Consider this leadership development conference to revive you. Are parents driving you crazy with demands? It must not be meant to last and they just don’t understand you. Not seeing kid’s lives changed? You probably aren’t up to speed on the latest outreach strategy. You’ve put enough time in to count it on your resume and you can move on? No one is stopping you and now is the time. No matter how you spin it, the challenge of youth ministry is high. Youth ministers have a negative reputation in the wider Christian church as being short lived, in transition and ultimately immature. They have their work cut out for them every which way they turn.
I don’t know that those circumstances are on a trajectory to change any time soon. The last statistic I heard is that a youth ministers projected length of employment in one job is 18 months. Sadly, I’ve seen that play out more often than not. And it continues to happen today for the reasons listed above: burn out, parent conflict, lack of kid response, or a better opportunity comes along.
I remember attending my first youth group on a Sunday evening in 1994, at a small local Christian church. The gym was hot and stuffy and we had just played an incredible game human foosball, where you sit down, keeping your behind on the ground and you use your hands to throw the ball around and make a goal. I was in heaven, being there for the first time. Youth group was a new concept to me coming out of the Catholic church where I hadn’t known much beyond attending catholic school, church on Sundays and confession on Wednesdays.
My first youth minister was a graduate of a local bible college, newly married and seemed like the most grown up person I knew next to my parents, only waaaaay cooler. He had made it clear early on that he was committed for four years, seeing his first class of freshman through to graduation. What I know now is that I really appreciate his clarity. He did just what he said. Not a day more or a day less. He and his wife moved on, heading back to school so that he could be come a biology teacher. To this day, I have interns that have been in his biology classes and it’s always an ironic conversation to tell him about how Mr. T used to be my youth minister playing goofy games with us kids.
After Mr. T resigned, the search began for the next youth minister to take his place. Over the course of my last three years of high school we had two more guys come through the revolving door. The first stayed less than 15 months (he had too much conflict with the parents), the second was still there when I left, but not for long. It was no secret that his destination was to be senior pastor, which he is today.
My burning question is this: Is anyone considering what they will or want to leave behind? I think that this is a poignant question for anyone, but especially youth ministers today. Are you considering what you will leave behind when you take a job or decide to leave after a short time? Does humanity ever really consider that when we leave somewhere? Whether it’s a spouse, a job, a ministry, a church family, rarely we ask the question, “What am I leaving behind in my wake?” We purely get to a place where there doesn’t seem like a way out through the weeds. Things didn’t go the way we expected. Maybe we accomplish what we set out to add to our resume, and off we go.
If we adjust our goals, we can battle these short term and burnt out statistics. What if the goal was more geared towards what will be left behind when they leave, instead of how successful the ministry is? What if our eyes were set on leaving the ministry better than we found it, with well discipled students and leaders to take over at a moment’s notice?
You see, the difference in my youth minister experience was that one of the three was clear about his commitment. He made a commitment, stuck to it and did his best to leave behind the kind of youth leaders who could sustain what was already happening. It wasn’t perfect and we were all still sad to see him go. If you look at Jesus’ strategy and the way he lived, he was clear about the fact that he wouldn’t be there forever. He told them how it would be, what they could expect and how they could continue living as he had lived. While he was on earth with them, he made a point to multiply into them what he had. Jesus’ strategy was brilliant, why would we sell ourselves short of anything less?
What do you think? What would help battle this epidemic of youth ministers leaving after a short time or using youth ministry as a stepping-stone to something better? How can we positively affect change in this area of youth ministry today?