How to Keep Your Youth Ministry Job

Spring firing season has begun.

The end of the school year is a dangerous time to be in youth ministry. With the program year winding down it is prime time for church leadership to make a decision on whether to keep their youth worker for another school year.

Hint: If you get invited to an unscheduled meeting with the elders in the next few weeks, you’re getting fired. I’m sorry. (Er “forced to resign” which is the same thing but makes the elders feel better about it.)

I have several friends who are going through this right now. And it really sucks. 

Here’s two things you need to nail to keep your youth ministry job

  1. Measurables. Oh sure, we talk about the importance of relational ministry. But don’t kid yourself… it’s about numbers. If you want to get paid to do youth ministry (a pay check is a number, by the way) than you better deliver something everyone agrees is measurable and communicate that measurable well. This might be your career, but to a church leader the youth ministry program is just another mouth to feed. (It’s an expenditure.) They want to look at the financial investment they are making and see the results. You’d be wise to start the ministry year communicating clearly defined desired outcomes with  measurables and then preparing a presentation in February/March to show what you’ve done to meet those desired outcomes as well as the measurable impact. Flow charts, graphs, and case studies. If you think I’m being ridiculous… go talk to someone who works at a non-church charity, they have staff people whose sole job is to keep the funding coming by creating desired outcomes and presenting measurables to donors. At the end of the day the only way leadership will continue funding your ministry is to constantly prove it’s working.
  2. Donor relations. Earlier this week I wrote a post called Skin in the Game. As a church staff person you need to know that those who attend the church, especially those for 10+ years, have a lot more skin in the game than you do. Don’t buy the lie that the staff have the most skin in the game at a church… it’s just not true. You are an employee hired to do #1, you are not an owner. I could point you to dozens of friends who have learned this the hard way. They thought being friendly with all the leaders or doing really important, hard work meant that they were safe. Or they thought that if they simply cared a lot and gave everything they had to it that their career would be fine. And then they got invited to a meeting and asked to resign. Spiritually, the owners might be “under your authority” but that doesn’t mean they won’t fire you. I don’t care if you’re the best youth pastor in America. If you don’t deliver on #1 above you’re in big trouble. In professional sports terms, they are the owners and you are the coaches. You job is to win and attract “fans” aka potential owners. If you’re aren’t delivering results than your job is hanging purely by your ability to manage donor relations. Manage those relationships well and you can probably hang on until you deliver on #1. But mismanaging those relationships makes a board decision to fire you a whole lot easier. (Hint: It’s not always the board who are the people you need on your side. Make sure you’re managing the right relationships.)

When I talk to friends in youth ministry who have just been let go, those are the two things it always comes down to. Measurables and donor relations. (aka “politics.”) You might disagree with me on that, and you can probably point to a case where that wasn’t true. But let me reassure you… nail those two things and you are eliminating 90% of the reasons my friends have gotten fired.

Maybe this post is too matter of fact for you? Trust me. I’m only sharing to prevent your pain. I know that I’ve taken something so personal, so much a part of you, and so much a part of your faith and narrowed it down to two bullet points for how you can keep going. I know it seems simpleton and I don’t really get your context. But you just need to know the truth. Don’t be naive. We are all capable of getting fired. Manage these two things well and all the other things you love about your job can continue. Mismanage them and you’re in for a world of hurt. It might not be this Spring, but your Spring is coming.

UPDATE: Brian Berry has a continuation of this post on his blog. Go check it out.

Tip: Get canned? Check out our free job board over at The Youth Cartel.





17 responses to “How to Keep Your Youth Ministry Job”

  1. Lance Green Avatar

    sad but very true brother.

    1. Curtis Avatar

      Adam, does this “reality” suggest the church has too thoroughly been overtaken by business metaphors and practices in its life and function?

      I don’t disagree with you that this is in fact the way things are, but I wonder if submitting to these realities is an abandonment of our vocation for a career. It seems to me that, “Not getting fired” is a goal a bit removed from our calling as ministers of the gospel.

      1. Adam McLane Avatar

        This post isn’t really about whether that’s a good thing or not. The new reality we must all face is that givers to the local church are comparing your work to their giving to other like-minded charities. I’m going to give my money to something that is delivers on measurable outcomes I like… that’s the bottom line.  

        I would argue that if you want to get paid, these are the challenges you are accepting. Your calling as a minister is not necessarily (or purely) tied to your source of income. 

        This post is a blunt assessment based on talking to lots and lots of my friends who have been let go. Calling, loving your job, doing good work, etc. I wish those were the measurables but they aren’t. 

        1. Jay Rosenberg Avatar

          Adam, I hear exactly what you are saying. And, having been let go by a church even when there were these results, I see this as a major problem in the institutional church in America. It’s sickening and shameful for it to be this way.

          I got called into one of these meetings and now that church youth group has declined in all these areas that were built up. Students graduating this past weekend have stopped going because there was no focus. One deacon didn’t think youth ministry had a place. To him, as you said, “they’re just another mouth to feed.” As if the institution was more important than the person. I think God is shamed in situations like this.

          The deciding factor should never be these. I understand that they are. But, reality is they are wrong ideals to compare ministry work to. Ministry is about people…not this other stuff. It’s garbage and churches are ruining ministers and their families by holding them to such things.

  2. John Denton Avatar

    Agreed. We even keep measurables on donor relations.

  3. Tom Roepke Avatar

    good solid advice here…and it all does come done to “relationships”.  its the core commodity of what we do.  and even then the measurables can get messy. 

  4. Brian W Avatar
    Brian W

    Great post.  I have served as a youth and college pastor and then as a church marketing professional.  What you have written about is pretty much dead on. 

    I think many would totally rebuke the concept that someone should get fired based on numbers.  Many would also argue the fact that numbers should not be a basis of analyzing a ministry.

    This was my thought as well, until I had the opportunity to study churches and ministries world wide.  The focus for a pastor or a ministry should be 1 of 3 things.  1) Be an instrument or channel for God to lead people to Christ.  2) To create and develop disciples (by discipleship). 3) Provide opportunities for people to disciple and minister (send out to work).

    I truly believe a healthy ministry will be growing.  If a ministry is not growing… there are reasons as to why.  A few reasons might be students either are not changing enough to want to bring their friends, students are not proud enough of their ministry to invite friends, students have not been prepared enough, therefore do not know how to invite their friends, or students are too fearful to invite friends, therefore students have not been equipped and transformed to be dangerous and influential disciples for Christ.

    The above paragraph does take time.  It does not happen over night or even just a year or two.  If a church expects changes in a short amount of time, they are wrong and ignorant.  If a youth pastor has been in position for some time and is not seeing growth, unfortunately… I believe a change needs to be made.  The youth pastor might be nice, incredible heart, etc… but there has to be some kind of disconnect between them and that church/ministry.  Growth does not just come from a persons ability, strengths and actions but also God’s favor. 

    God is about numbers.  That is why he even put a book in the bible about numbers 🙂 .

    Acts 2:47 –

    Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord
    added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    Ephesians 4:11 –

    And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the
    shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
    for building up the body of Christ,

    John 12:32 –

    And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

    Matthew 13:31 0
    ” The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Though it is the
    smallest of all seeds yet when it grows it is the largest of garden

    Matthew 28:19-20
    “Jesus said, `Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
    the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching
    them to observe everything I’ve commanded you and surely I will be with
    you always even to the very end of the age.”

  5. Chet Andrews Avatar

    The tangible goals Adam suggest will only help you.  If you state your goals, and show what you are doing to obtain those goals, most leadership over you will recognize that even if the goals are not met.   This is just good accountability and allows your pastor to go to bat for you very easily if others in the church are complaining about you to your pastor. 

    The only word of warning is to not be be drawn to meeting goals for meeting goals sake.   If the goals are not rooted in glorifying Christ and making disciples goals can be a pathway to legalism. 

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Agreed. I think I’d caution on the side of being too programmatic if your job is to manage the YM program. Yes, hedge against legalism. But sometimes you’ve probably got to do things purely because it accomplishes a goal towards your measurables. For instance, I always hated having nights that celebrated a mission trip or something like that. But… that’s all part of an overall thing which is measurable. 

      Sometimes we get so lost in the relational end of ministry that we forget that while we’re getting paid to minister to students… we’re also getting paid to run an efficient and effective program. The trick is not letting one overpower the other! 

  6. Tim Schmoyer Avatar

    I think you should add another point that could get you fired: out-performing your boss and being more well-respected than him/her, especially if you have a vision for moving forward and they don’t. That’ll get your fired almost every time.

    (Oh, and commenting on Adam’s blog does it, too. True story.) 🙂

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      @timschmoyer:disqus “(Oh, and commenting on Adam’s blog does it, too. True story.) :)” That’d be more funny if it weren’t so true. We need to do a video about that at some point. 

      1. Tim Schmoyer Avatar

        haha sure, let’s do it. Lemme know what you have in mind.

      2. Shannon Avatar

        Seriously?  that truly blows my mind!

  7. Mrflyfishing Avatar

    That is why i am an unpaid youth pastor now and love it more then when i got a pay check!! And truely will never go back!

  8. faithfulmeg3 Avatar

    interesting timing… while I agree those things are true, is it still ok to be frustrated with the fact that those things are so true?  

  9. Jay Rosenberg Avatar

    This is why the institutional church, for lack of a better term, sucks. My stance: If people wanna fire me for not tickling their ears and justifying their pocket books then so be it. At the end of the day it is more important to focus my efforts on people and not superficial junk that could be my oust. It has happened to me and if it happens again I’ll leave knowing that I did what God called me to and not people. 

  10. Brian Avatar

    I’d add 3 other critical points. 1. be a team player/care about the Big church & it’s goals & values. 2. Don’t flirt with anyone whose not your spouse. ever. 3. Over communicate: both great news & be the first to alert your supervisor to possible bad news- never let them get surprised by your mistakes. that always is bad.

Leave a Reply