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youth ministry

Youth Workers: Don’t Punk Out

Youth ministry seems to be facing asymmetrical challenges right now.

Two of them on the forefront of my mind are longevity and transference of wisdom.

With a tough job market and a climate of deconstruction/re-thinking/shifting in the profession… it really pains me to see a lot of very gifted youth workers move on.

Some of them are my friends. And I put on a happy face to try to be happy for you when you send me an email telling me of your bright new idea. But I’m really sad when I see our dreams for one another give way to something else. For a myriad of reasons our sophmoric desire to be in youth ministry for a lifetime has given way to leaving ministry altogether or becoming a church planter or taking a “higher” staff position at a church as executive/lead/teaching pastor.

If I read those reasons right, most of them seem to imply– more stable, more money, more powerful positions.

Let our 20-year old self talk to our 34-year old self for a second… “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!?!??!!”

Those are all things we swore we wouldn’t give our dreams to. But, if I can use passive/politically correct language for a minute, life seems to be forcing some of us to sell out.

I just want to toss this out there. Maybe there are others who are sitting on the fence and looking at greener pastures.

  • Don’t punk out.
  • Working with teenagers is as important now as ever.
  • Fight the temptation to take an easier way out of your problems.
  • You’ve always said youth ministry wasn’t a stepping stone.
  • The grass won’t be greener as a church planter or a lead pastor, you know it and I know it.

We know this to be true: As cultural spins faster and faster the brightest minds and the greatest innovations are now will continue to flow from youth workers just trying to figure out how to best minister to kids in their neighborhoods. The best ministry innovations are not now nor have ever flowed from the top down. It’s always the other way around. The best innovators typically don’t have the biggest platforms nor do they typically have agents.

Why?

Intrinsic hunger forces innovation. The best ideas come when you have no other choice but to innovate.

Sure– I know someone is going to light me up for saying it. After all, who am I to question decisions that aren’t mine? And all the other voices in my friends heads telling them they need to go plant a church, be a teaching pastor, or chase another vocation must be right and I must be wrong.

But I’m allowing myself to be sad. And I’m allowing myself to put it in writing that you don’t have to punk out. Adversity, frustration, questioning, tension, getting fired, having to adapt, making less money, and being discouraged aren’t now and never have been “God closing doors.

Sometimes those things are merely a testing of calling and God rewards you for passing the test.

Sure, the world needs more senior pastors. Sure the world needs more church planters. Sure the world needs more whatever-it-is-that-is-taking-you-from-youth-ministry.

But those kids. (The kid that was you. That kid was me.) That kid will always need a youth worker there at just the right moment to say just the right thing.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

26 replies on “Youth Workers: Don’t Punk Out”

Adam,
THANK YOU!! Thanks for saying this. Thanks for encouraging. I have been incredibly blessed to be in the church that I am currently serving and I am excited about what God wants to do in the lives of the teens. But there are times when I get so frustrated with adolescent behavior and thoughts from those who left adolescence a long time ago that I wonder why I am serving where I am. Do I need to go plant a church to allow for real transparency to exist from the onset? Your post reminds me of what GOD has called me too and not what adolescent behavior of adults can push me too if I allow it. Great post!

Yes! I’ve been thinking the same thing for a while too Adam, so I’m glad one of us was willing to step up and say what was on our hearts. I’m in it to win it, so I’ll be bugging you at NYWCs for years to come.

This is AWESOME Adam! I love what you have shared here. I believe there are many youth workers that are considering leaving a position for the wrong reasons and can benefit from what you’ve shared.

Great Points. I am really getting tired of all the dumbfounded looks that I get when people realize that I am not in Youth Ministry “as a stepping stone to other things”. I have been amazingly blessed by my church financially, which is not the norm in Youth Ministry. You follow God, he’s going to do great things through you. Am I completely opposed to God leading me to another type of ministry later on in my life? No, but it’s HIS CALL, not mine…

Thank you, It is amazing how God works, I have been in youth ministry for the last 21 years and thought last Feb that God was telling me, its time, time to move on, plus arent you getting a little too old for ym. I kept thinking but I love Jesus and I love teens, doesnt that matter? So you guessed it I took the plung and punked out! I left the church I was currently serving and decided to try something new, and then I was called to work for a week at a summer camp that works with kids that have parents that are in prison, and it was there that I heard God’s voice, saying girlfriend I am not finished with you, what were you thinking? I have given you a gift to connect to teens and to show them how much they are loved by me. So I went home, did a lot of praying and lots of family meetings about getting back into youth ministry, much too my surprise my husband and kids were like “mom, what took you so long to figure out that this where God has called you to be. Long story short….I have just excepted a new position at a new church and am loving on teenagers again and sharing the crazy love that Christ has for them. So don’t “punk out”! God is counting on you!!!!! Peace out!!!

21 years. When I first got started that seemed like a LLLLOOOONNNNGGG time. Hard to believe I’m not horribly far behind. How did we get so impossibly old? We’re still cool, right?

Adam – I hear you loud and clear. Thanks for posting this. Honestly man I’m struggling with this – sort of. Mine comes more from others “over” me telling me I’m not using the gifts God has given me correctly all in the sake of “loving me and looking out for me.” Over the past few months I’ve been told at least a dozen times I’d do more for God’s Kingdom as a worship leader somewhere rather than a youth pastor.

Now granted this may be God directing all of this and it may seem to be so it is a little different than what you posted about. Still your post tugs at my heartstrings. Because in a sense I feel like if I give in and move into another role I’m selling out. But what if God calls into a different direction? I agree that student ministry (or any ministry) should be a stepping stone. What if it’s really God calling and not last nights peperoni pizza from the lock-in or event?

Great post Adam. Long live Youth Leaders. I was so blessed to have 2 role models when I was first starting out in Youth Ministry that were Youth Leaders themselves; ages 45 and 50.

If I may add my own two cents: Finish strong Youth Leaders! Finish Strong!

On the other hand…

I fought God on leaving youth ministry for a couple of years, hoping He wasn’t moving me on to something else. When He showed me my next leg would involve being a lead pastor, I realized I wasn’t turning my back on youth ministry as much as I was understanding it in a larger context.

It’s like that famous French painting “Sunday in the Park” that is made up of all those dots. For a long time I stared at that dot, assuming that was my dot forever. Namely, youth ministry.

God backed me up and showed me more of the painting… the dot didn’t go anywhere, but I now realized what my passion truly was.

I once thought it was teenagers. In recent years I’ve realized it’s them, but also the “future of the Church” – being sure there is a healthy one ahead.

So I try to use my experience as a youth worker to create environments in our church where kids and teens can be the first priority of investment in all we do. Plus I mentor youth workers and stay connected through writing as well as investing into a few students.

Basically, I share that to say I don’t disagree with your post – but I think it’s incomplete in that it doesn’t account for what I’m doing. It is possible to not be a full-time youth worker and be in a “sell out” role without “selling out.”

The nature of “punking out” is such that people do it because they think the grass is greener on the other side. (w/e opportunity they are considering) I’m not saying that once you’re a youth pastor you are somehow stuck there forever. I think the very nature of the wrestling you described shows that you didn’t just punk out. Two totally different things IMO.

This post is more in response to the storyline which starts with a friend having a rough go at a church. Then, two months later “God is clearly wanting me to plant a church.” (Or be a different staff role or leave ministry.)

Trust me, I get that there are times when you are sitting there thinking… I’m sick of this.

Adam,

Great post as always. Your writing causes me to think in ways my brain normally doesn’t. So, thanks for being willing to do that and for caring so much youth ministry.

With that being said, I just wanted to chime in as well. I really agree with and like Tony’s add to this post. I was thinking about along the same lines as his post.

I agree that there are way too many that chase after the grass on the other side of the fence. Heck, that was me! I was the “punk”. I hope that’s true any longer, but for my first 10 years of ministry I was a “climber”. Arrogance and pride filled filled my motives. Yes, I loved Jesus and desperately wanted to see students meet and fall in love with Jesus. But, I also wanted (deep down) for the most students to attend my youth group and I always looked at what was next. Actually, I craved the thought of someday being at the big church. And that’s what drove me.

Then, I finally arrived at the big church! I was quick to realize that the grass wasn’t greener. There was actually a form for that…jk (the larger church I was at was pretty darn corporate). I left there to start my own thing and within months I had experienced the biggest failure of my life and I was humbled. Everything changed for me. And, I thought I would never work at a large church again and then I find myself at another large church.

In this season of life, after going through a long and hard year long journey to find what God wanted for me, I have found myself away from youth ministry for the first time in 14 years. I actually thought at the beginning of the journey thatI was done altogether with ministry. but, I believe God had other plans.

And, I so resonate with Tony. I am now an assistant pastor who oversees the youth pastor and I love mentoring role and I love being able to RAISE the voice of youth ministry around the church. I know this is what God wanted for me and it wasn’t a grass is greener leap.

The only other thing I will say about the longevity piece is this. For youth pastors that are abused, under paid (for a long time), under resourced and not given a leadership voice at their church. My advice to them has always been you must take care of your own soul and your family first. And, if that means leaving a church to do that, then that has to be done. But, I believe that wouldn’t fall in the category of “grass is greaner”.

Sorry for the long post, just passionate about this topic.

Thanks

“just passionate about this topic.” Me too.

I think you know the difference, Jason. No one is saying you punk’d out. The post was meant as a reminder to those who watch things like, “The Nines” and get the idea that in order to be a success you have to write books or lead a big church or plant a church über different. We need to continually lift up youth workers of what the goal is.

Actually… I watched most of the Nines this year and was only frustrated once or twice with a perspective I heard. It was quite refreshing – in fact, one guy in the middle of the day was a small church pastor and spoke about the ways a small church is like a Navy Seals team on a unique mission. Intriguing this year.

On the other hand, I get your point. Whether it’s NYWC or Willow Creek, there is a risk to who you put on stage and it’s sometimes unconsciously communicated that this person is “more right” than you are… and since they are published or do something in the spotlight (i.e. a big church or missions organization), they get more face time. The same is true with breakout seminars as well – if “big name” offers the same idea as “little name,” who gets booked?

For all we know, that contributes to some of this throwing in the towel – people feel they can’t measure up to speak to their peers to the same level as others. Granted, NYWC does well at giving “no name” people a window more than other conferences, but even then it’s usually one shot in the conference versus multiple hits over multiple days. In my experience, I was still treated like royalty by the staff… but not everyone gets that opportunity to feel like their voice “counts.”

loved this post Adam.
After 16 years in youth ministry, I have moved to a different role – a place where I have oportunity to support others (incl. youth bods) – however, have missed the face to face time with the young people. This term I am back in a volunteering capacity…..so excited.
I know that it was not selling out – but part of me put that pressure on myself – so grateful for people like you that have enabled me to keep an eye on the ball.
Thank you

Hey Dude,

Thank you for this post!!!! Honestly this post deeply resonated with me.

You are identifying one of the biggest white elephants in the professional youth worker field.

You go after youth workers for punking, burning, and selling out, which is 100% true. However… I think this is not only a youth worker punking out problem, but an epidemic church American problem.

Unfortunately, life and church get the best of youth workers. Professional youth workers have families to support, bills to pay, and become weary and tired because their church continuously underpay, under-support, and undervalue the youth worker role.

Here are some questions I have been considering in order to reduce the amount of youth workers from punking out….. (honestly, I think it is okay for some youth workers to punk out because they were just going through the motions and really didn’t have a heart for kids)

How can the senior staff of a church really support, equip, fund, and resource a youth ministry?
-what if our church valued and believed youth workers really matter like YS? Do you think youth pastors would be turning and burning as frequent? Why do youth workers even begin to start thinking about the next thing? Maybe discontent? under appreciate? underpaid?

If a youth worker was really taken care, would punking out still be an option?

What are the top three reasons youth workers punk out?
my guess: moral failure, $, position title, and buying into the idea that older youth workers are bad youth ministers

What if the youth ministry profession is really just a transient and transition role for church leaders?
-the youth ministry field just attracts a weird brand of people to become youth pastors who are a little cheesy, corky, wounded, spunky, and heretics so it may make sense why there is such a high turn over rate?
– plus working in the youth ministry trenches is tough!! not everyone is emotionally, spiritually, and physically equipped to handle the difficulties youth ministry offers.
-also… there are only a few youth ministry positions that can sustain a full time youth worker to keep doing what he/she loves to do with out compromising his family’s needs. Let’s be honest…. either you work for a big parachurch YM organization, a mega church YM, or make it as a writer, you will most likely leave YM because many of the ym church jobs cannot provide for a family of 4.

Is vocation youth ministry the best option? What if a youth group had 30 okay leaders who loved kids that didn’t want to receive a pay check? Would this model work and would these 30 leaders leave out of youth ministry?

Dude, amazing response! I think these are excellent questions.

Here is where I am, what if our calling isn’t just vocational? What if it is for some and not others?

What would it look lime for a tribe of youth workers to set out to do a task that no one could fire them from, no board could turn down, what if we just did it until we couldn’t so yout it anymore?

Thanks DC. As predicted, I took heat for sharing this post. There’s been a lot of good/bad things about this post. And there have been some amazing conversations.

But I can’t get away from the reality that we say its all about relationships. And I think times like these reveal if it is really about relationships…

Adam,
Thank you for reminding me of the calling I couldn’t get away from for so many years.
I recently was basically fired (I was asked to resign) from my first youth ministry position and as a result really began to question whether I was still called to youth ministry. What has been amazing over the last couple months is that God has renewed my passion and calling in te middle of the hurt that I was and am feeling. I definitely did not want to be there for only 3 years and wondered how I could continue if what I though God was calling me to do, just got me canned. Now here I am 2 months down the road with 2 churches that I really like probably going to offer the position to me, and could see God using me in His calling for me, at either one of these places! It is amazing when you persevere through the trials that make you question your calling how much stronger that calling becomes!

Thanks for reminding us not to punk out Adam! The temptation was definitely there!

All Because of Him!!

I hear ya, bro! I had to wrestle long and hard with that “I will be in student ministry for the rest of my life” idea when I followed what I believe to be God in planting a church. In the end, it had to come down to calling. I don’t want to abandon students for “greener pastures” – in fact, as a work to launch journey church, I bring 16 years of student ministry experience into the leadership of a new church (that is about to launch it’s effort to reach and work with students). In a lot of ways I don’t feel like I’ve abandoned students or student ministry – In fact, I feel as though I took a high value for student ministry into the office of the lead guy… we all know how crappy it can be to work for a jerk of a lead (using that term loosly) guy who only sees student ministry as a way to attract parents of students!

Those are just my thoughts… some justification… as I follow the generation of students I have been working with for almost 2 decades into their mid-to-late 20’s…

J

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