After 28 years, 2 months, and 26 days I did something I never really thought I would do—I changed careers. I left Youth Ministry to pursue working with adults in a congregation setting. I couldn’t find a solid research study that indicated how long professional youth ministers remain in youth ministry, but I was able to conclude that it is, on average, less than 5 years. That reality blows my mind! After 5 years with a group of students, ministry was just getting good. I was starting to see the fruit of my labors.
Rather than talk about why people get out of youth ministry I’d prefer to talk about what it takes to go the distance. If you are currently serving in the church and have the privilege of working with middle and high school students, I hope some of the things I learned along the way will encourage you to stay the course.
- Invest in the ministry where you are, not in the ministry you hope to have one day. I’ve talked to way too many Youth Ministers who see what they are doing as a stepping stone to ministry positions with more visibility or authority. Or perhaps see ministry in a smaller church setting as a stepping stone to serving at a mega church. The ministry where you are deserves your commitment. As you invest in the people you serve, you will experience the blessing of those same people investing in you and in the ministry you lead.
- Don’t be a lone ranger. This was my biggest mistake in ministry. I tried to do youth ministry by myself. I wasn’t sure what to have other people do so I didn’t ask. Once I learned how to let other people lead in a variety of roles, the payoffs were huge. It was really fun to watch volunteer leaders shine—to connect with students and parents in ways that were beyond anything I could have done without them.
- Be a lifelong learner. There is so much to learn and so many great books, blogs, etc. on the subject of youth ministry. Read. Read. Read. Process. Process. Process. The more you know, the more effective you will be over the long haul.
- Build relationships with other youth ministry professionals. There will be days when you feel the full weight of being in youth ministry. It is not the easiest job in the world! It will take its toll on you and leave you feeling dizzy. If you want to stay the course, find others you can confide in, seek support from, receive encouragement from, and have some accountability with.
Being a youth minister was one of the greatest blessings of my life! Had I abandoned ship after the first few years or when the going got a little tougher, I would not have had the joy of being a small part of the faith journeys of so many teenagers. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.