The last will and testament of Joe Youth Worker:

  • To the pastor, I leave a tuna sandwich hidden somewhere in your office…good luck.
  • To the janitor, I leave an apology note for all the spills and messes over the years.
  • To youth group, I leave all the candy in my office. Don’t know how old it is, but that has never stopped you before!
  • To the next youth worker, I leave a mess of old waiver forms, a bunch of outdated curriculum, random CDs from the 90’s, and of course, our rubber chicken, Gerdie. Make sure to take Gerdie for a walk 2-3 times per week and don’t feed her any of the office candy.

This is (probably) not a real example, but hopefully gets us thinking about a fundamental question that I think all youth workers need to address: What am I leaving behind in my ministry? If you were to leave tomorrow, what would be left behind? Would whoever follows you, whether a volunteer or a full-time staff person, have any idea of what has been done there?

I think unless they are intentional about it, very few youth workers have a clear idea of what they’re leaving behind whenever they go. In fact, many may not even think about leaving, even though it will happen at some point for all of us. It seems like only the most organized of us actually have written plans and files for the various ministries we work with. It’s just bonus, extra, or an unrealistic dream for the rest of us. For me, having a clear set of files, transition plan, or guides to important events was on a wish-list of things I wanted to do, but never had time for. That changed when I was actually looking at a transition at my church and then I had to carve out the time for it in my last few weeks there. Speaking from experience, it’s better to work on this part of the organization as you go along. There’s no guarantee that you’ll have plentiful time before a transition to get this ready.

For one last idea to help spark some motivation to get some details down on paper (or electronically), just think of starting new at a congregation. What would you like to be there waiting for you? A list of events they had previously done? Sample Bible studies or calendars? Step by step guides for key events? A contact list of key people involved in the ministry? An organized supply closet? I think almost all of us would answer “yes” to these questions. Having files and plans doesn’t mean that whoever follows you in ministry has to continue with those exact plans or do everything the way you did it. That’s not the point. What this does is enable them to know the history of the ministry in order to be most successful–continuing what was successful, learning from what maybe wasn’t, and knowing which people to start contacting to be involved. You’re setting the next person up for success, and if you truly care for the ministry, that’s what really matters.

So take some extra time each month to document the ministry. If this whole post has made you freak out because you hate being organized, then this is a great opportunity to bring others onto your team. Train up a youth, adult, or other volunteer to help you in organizing files, creating “how to guides,” coming up with contact sheets, cleaning the storage closet, and labeling boxes and containers. Helping your ministry be “built to last” takes a certain measure of organization and effort, but the youth are worth this effort. May we all be workers that love the Lord and the youth enough to put in the time to help a transition be as smooth as possible, to set up our replacement for success.