Let’s talk for a few moments about transitions. Transitions can be exciting, like joining a new team, learning a new skill, starting a new relationship, or transitioning from work time to nap time. But I think more often than not, transitions are hard. Adjusting to new experiences, people, expectations, and locations can be difficult. And the transition process when someone leaves is extremely tough.
Even a transition between paragraphs can be difficult. But what can make a transition much better is to have a plan for how that transition happens, especially when it comes to youth ministry. Any transition in leadership of a youth ministry can be potentially devastating. You can have entire classes that are left in the gap between the old leader and the new leader. You can have long-time traditions or events that stop because no one in charge knew about them until it was too late. Some youth don’t initially like the new leader as much as the old one, perhaps because they’re changing too much too soon, they changed one thing, or they’re not making enough adjustments. Transitions can not only harm ministry programs, but ultimately they can hurt people’s relationships with the church, and as a result, their Lord.
As youth leaders, we all must realize that we are not going to be the youth leader at our congregation forever. Someone will follow us in our ministry roles sooner or later. Given that this is a reality we are all faced with, what can we do to be proactive about smoothing out that transition, especially since we may not know exactly when that will take place? I think first and foremost, it comes down to people. Before you work on a detailed file, transition plan, or event guides (which is extremely beneficial and will be discussed in a future post) you need to invest in people. The key to a transition isn’t found in how great your files and notes are, but in the people that make up the ministry team in transition. If you have an excellent plan, but no people to help carry out the plan, all you are passing on to the next person is another set of leader-centered events and programs that will give them a lot to do, but not activate others in the ministry of making disciples in the youth ministry which is ultimately the whole purpose of the ministry. Plans without people lack purpose.
With all this being said, there are two groups of leaders to invest in:
- Invest in your adult leaders. I love seeing youth that are leading in a ministry, but overall it is adults that are able to carry the load of a ministry when a big transition happens. This isn’t because they are more talented or capable than your youth necessarily, but simply due to time, resources, life experience, and responsibility. Simply put, you need a few adults to help in various capacities in ministry. A few questions to ask yourself as you work to create a transition-ready ministry: Do I have a few adults that are involved in our weekly gatherings? Who else knows about the behind-the-scenes planning for major events? Do I give some responsibility to my adult chaperones on retreats and events? Who else loves and prays for these youth and how are these adults involved in their lives?
- Invest in your youth leadership. While a team of adults is likely your best programmatic transition team, if your youth aren’t involved, especially the youth leadership, it will be much harder. The more youth have ownership of the ministry, the more they will rise to the occasion to carry it on in the event of a leadership transition. Some questions to ask yourself as you work to create a transition-ready ministry: How are youth involved in your ministry? Do you regularly give youth a chance to share their opinions and ideas? Do your youth pray for your ministry and your adult leaders? Are they involved in leading or planning games, Bible studies, small groups, and events or are they only spectators or participants?
God sometimes leads us into unexpected transitions in life and ministry with little to no warning or time to get a plan in place. By raising up leaders and investing in people, we can lay the foundation for a quick transition if necessary. One exciting truth about this process is that more than merely benefiting a future transition, investing in these people and in the program will reap benefits across the ministry in the present. But an exponentially more exciting truth is that you are not the Lord of the Church: Christ is! The key to any of our transitions, ministry or otherwise is that Jesus Christ still reigns. The Church, including your local congregation, depends on His gifts, not yours. His presence will still be with your youth no matter where you (or they) go. Live in His love and keep the focus on Christ, not the youth leader, being the focus of the youth ministry and you will be ready to weather any storm or transition. The greatest relationship to invest in as you look towards a transition is your relationship with God. Thankfully we have a God who is investing in His relationship with us, no matter what.