While in seminary in 2003 I served at a church plant outside Dallas, Texas that I thought was going to be the perfect church for me. It was new, full of young people, had a pretty outgoing pastor who held a Doctorate of Ministry in church leadership, and everyone had a burden for lost souls in the community. I went in to the position thinking, “Wow, this is the kind of church I could stay at forever, where all my ministry dreams can be fulfilled.” Everything started well. Kids were engaged, parents were welcoming, and unsaved students were giving their lives to Christ. How exciting!
But within a couple months that excitement turned into resentment as many in the congregation, myself included, desperately wanted to leave the church. Many unhealthy things were taking place, but for me it was mainly three issues:
1. Outreach is great, but not when it turns into a spiritual recruitment method for increasing church attendance.
2. I can’t stand being the person adults come to for counseling because no one trusts the pastor.
3. Being an employee does not make me a pawn to fill in all the cracks that volunteers in other parts of the church are leaving open.
These issues and more began to build and build. Criticism began to build from the pastor that I was spending too much time teaching and not enough time reaching, especially as people started leaving the church. The more people left, the more I was expected to “recruit” and replace them with fresh blood. Furthermore, I was expected to fill in the ministry holes others were leaving behind just because I was paid staff and the pastor told me to do it as my boss. I soon dreaded Sunday mornings. I had to get there very early every morning and stay late to cover new responsibilities that had nothing to do with youth ministry or things I was slightly passionate about. It got worse as church members started sharing things with me followed by, “Oh, and please don’t tell any of this to Pastor.” I told them I couldn’t do that, but the people continued to put me in an awkward position between them and the pastor, which made our pastor envious and ruined our relationship even further.
I often vented about the situation to one of my seminary professors that I met with every week. He advised me early to leave the church, something he usually advises against, but I loved the kids there so much that I couldn’t bring myself to leave them. Plus, I knew that if I left it would be a long time until another youth pastor would come for them. So I hung on despite my prof’s wisdom.
Finally, one Sunday morning was the straw the broke the camel’s back. The pastor said something to me that made me so angry I almost went straight home to write my resignation letter, but because of the kids, I stayed through the service and wrote it later that afternoon. Unfortunately, three months later in 2004 the church closed their doors anyway and completely dissipated.
The ministry dip was huge for me at this church. I started out on top of the world, sunk to having the weight of the church on my shoulders and then abandoned it altogether. I didn’t even start looking for a new ministry position until about a year later. But through the dip I learned a couple very valuable lessons that have significantly impacted my ministry involvement since then.
1. Students ultimately belong to God. He will take care of them with or without me.
2. Youth workers are not little helpers to fill holes in my ministry. I need to use them to serve where their God-given passion lies, even if I have to create new areas of ministry for it to happen. (More on that regarding this experience here)
3. When interviewing for a new youth ministry position, I make SURE my values are aligned with both the church’s written and unwritten values.
Tim Schmoyer is the blogger behind Life in Student Ministry, husband to Dana, and a youth pastor in Alexandria, Minnesota.
Sponsored by: Raising Lazarus: A Fund for Hurting Youth Workers.