Over a year ago, I was talking to one my youth ministry guru guys about the rarity of long term youth pastors in a local church setting. There are a decent amount of guys who have been in youth ministry for a long time (20-30) years, you can often hear them speak at various youth ministry conventions and other training opportunities. However very rarely are they in a local church setting. They tend to be youth ministry professors, camp directors, denominational leaders, in para-church ministries, professional speakers (need someone for your next camp?) or have started their own non-profit ministry to do what they’ve always loved without the headaches, heartaches or hurts that come from local church ministry.
I can understand the appeal of those positions and I’ve considered almost all of those different ways to do youth ministry without being in a local church. Why aren’t there more of us who remain in full time local church youth ministry for 20 plus years?
One of the principles I loved about Seth Godin’s book is that he gave permission to quit. I remember being in seminary and talking with all my fellow youth ministry seminarians who were convinced that they would be doing youth ministry until they die. If commonly used statistics are true, around 25-40% of them aren’t even in ministry now (14 years later) let alone in youth ministry.
It’s a shame they quit because of discouragement, hurt, isolation or pain from being in ministry. These things can come from within the individual or from within a local congregation. I wish they would not have quit, I wish they had pushed through the dip and pursued ministry because the harvest is plentiful but quality workers are few.
On the other hand I’m glad that some other guys have gotten out of youth ministry. Not because they were horrible but because they had gifts to share with the larger body of Christ. They include numerous former youth pastors who have become church planters, who took over for their senior pastor, who moved on to become a senior pastor, who went into missions and even Tony Jones who is now national director for the Emergent Village. If you need to quit youth ministry to pursue a new passion or your gifts have changed, great! Keep serving Jesus but remember to give your youth pastor a good budget and salary, when you’re in charge.
I’ve pushed through my own year and a half “dark night of the soul” after being fired abruptly by a stereotypical CEO Senior Pastor. It took time to heal and thankfully we found a great church that allowed us the time and space to heal. Because of my time in the Youth Pastor ICU, I’m able to be back in local church youth ministry.
It’s glorious. I’ve been “back in the saddle” for almost nine months now in full time youth ministry and there are still days where I go to work giddy. It’s my goal to retire in local church youth ministry. Is it because I can’t do anything else? No, it’s because I can’t do anything else! I’m compelled to care for students and their families in a local church setting because I think it’s the thing that I can do best to make Jesus smile the most.
Push through the dip, keep loving the local church, and join me in the youth pastor retirement home.
Len Evans has been in full time youth ministry since graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1994. He is the author of Creative Bible Lessons in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. He’s written for The Journal of Student Ministries, Youthworker Journal and Group. He is the Youth Pastor of Melonie Park Church in Lubbock, TX.
Sponsored by Raising Lazarus: A Fund for Youth Workers