I know what you’re thinking. You saw the title “Transitions” and you instantly thought… “Holy crap, Adam is transitioning?

Nope. And I didn’t buy those transitions lenses for my glasses that adjust to the sunlight either.

In the past year or so I’ve really started to think of the youth ministry tribe as a people of transition who minister to people in transition.

Why? Because at least once per week I hear from someone who is changing jobs for a wide variety of reasons. And unlike a lot of other tribes… when you change jobs in youth ministry that almost always means a change in everything… where you live, what your role is, sometimes what denomination you’re affiliated with, where your kids go to school, on and on. Transitions are big and dramatic in youth ministry.

But they aren’t really talked about much outside of the people actually transitioning.

When Transition Comes About

10-15 years ago you heard about train wrecks of ministry transitions. We’ve all heard horror stories:

  • 10 years of ministry at a church and you get a letter on your desk from the board… not even a face-to-face conversation.
  • Churches who fire people quickly, not allowing for closure.
  • People asked to sign contracts for final paychecks… being “forced to resign.”

Each person in youth ministry could share a stories of people they know that stuff like this has happened to.

I share that not to expose anything but to point out that it seems that there are fewer of these horror stories happening, at least in the circles I run in. Instead, I’m seeing the same amount of transition as before… just less hostile.

Sure, when people get fired they are always surprised by it. They are always (initially) convinced they’ve been wronged. And they very rarely have the ability to see what contributed to it. They just know they have a massive problem (they need a job) and they feel a sense of relief. (A sign they knew deep down it wasn’t  going well.)

Here’s a few categories of transition that I see most often:

Transitions for Fit

Perhaps the most healthy transition I hear about is simply fit. Sometimes an organization intentionally hires a square peg for a round hole. But, as a professional square peg, being that odd-man-out wears on you. It might be appreciated in a high-level kind of way. The kind of way that will push an organization to think differently or see things they don’t want to see. But these are rarely long-term… it’s just exhausting for everyone. (Presbyterians hiring Southern Baptists or bringing in a relational youth worker at a highly programmatic church.)

I think it takes a certain level of maturity in the individual to recognize that their ministry isn’t a good fit for their giftedness, theology, etc. It’s brave to step away for this reason if that’s the real reason. (“Fit” has also become a blanket term, right?)

Transitions for Stage of Life / Stage of Family Life

It’s really hard to stay in a ministry through various stages of life. A lot of people start off in youth ministry as a single young adult. But it gets harder as you move into different stages of life. You get married and you don’t want to spend 24/7 focusing on your job. You have a kid and you realize that your ministry isn’t just your job. Your kids get a little older and you start think… “Do I want to raise PKs?” Then you think, “Do I want to have my kids in my youth group?” Then you think “How the heck am I going to pay for college on this salary?” Then you think “My kids are starting families… can I still do this?

At each of these waypoints and a lot more should be a true reality check for you. The simple fact is that there are very, very few ministry positions that’ll work out for all stages of your career. That doesn’t mean those are bad places to work, it just means that there’s no shame in looking at how you’ve changed or how your circumstances have changed and embracing the reality that sometimes you transition because of a stage of life.

Transitions to Deal with Failure or Conflict

Failure and conflict are two of the biggies in why people transition. There’s an unfortunate irony that the hardest jobs in ministry usually go to the least experienced and least trained. Church plants, walking into small and older congregations, etc. But the simple reality is that both failure and conflict (usually inter-related) happen at every type of ministry.

A lot of transitions happen because you didn’t deal with failure or failed so badly that they had little choice.  (Could be a moral thing, but could also just be a failure to execute your job.)

It takes some time and maturity to admit when you did a bad job. Just remember that failing at a job doesn’t make you a failure. Failing to learn from failure and repeating it over and over again? That’s what failure looks like.

The other side of this is transition because of conflict. Mismatched expectations or personality conflicts or any number of other factors can produce conflict that you can’t manage to resolve. And so the sad reality is that people who preach reconciliation cannot reconcile and someone has to go. (You!)


I like hearing people use the phrase “transition” to describe job change because the word itself is about patience and implies a certain level of discernment.

If I were to offer advice to people considering a transition… or maybe a transition has been considered for you… it’s this:

  • Be as patient about it as you need to make a decision.
  • When you decide, act swiftly. It’s not good for anyone to drag things out.
  • Make space for healing. Even the most healthy job changes require a period of healing. Leaving a job one week and starting the next in a few days isn’t doing anyone a favor.
  • Leave well. Even when you get hurt, leave well. Take the high road, be the bigger person, be professional… whatever phrase you need to latch onto, do it.
  • Involve outsiders. Sometimes you’re too close to the situation to be able to see clearly. I’ve seen people leave great jobs that are perfect fits for them because they just hit a hard period and gave up. You’ve got to see the big picture sometimes and you can’t do that alone.
  • Laugh a lot. It’s just a job.






3 responses to “Transitions”

  1. Brian Aaby Avatar
    Brian Aaby

    Good word Adam. I would surmise that you’re observation is true, the horror stories seem to be less… unfortunately it doesn’t make it any less painful to the one who is dealing with it currently. What’s interesting is that I’ve dealt with a couple churches who are the ones feeling very hurt right now by the way they were treated by the leaving employee.

    The advice at the end is spot on. Especially the leave well, and act swiftly.

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      @brian – That’s an interesting insight, churches getting hurt by the departure of a staffer. Employee management, compensation, and supervision seem to be weaknesses for a lot of multi-staff churches. I’ve talked to people who have moved on over issues they never even brought up. That ain’t good!

  2. Brian Aaby Avatar
    Brian Aaby

    Yes, part of leaving well should be a very healthy exit interview (where both parties try to avoid bitterness, but identify the issues).

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