Church Leadership

What to Say When the Youth Pastor Leaves


It’s June. Professional youth ministries most dangerous month. I’ve served in three churches and all the hiring, firing, quitting, and retiring with the youth ministry seems to happen in June. It’s a wicked combination of the end of the school year and for a lot of churches, the end of the budget year. I could offer some theories as to why so many churches hire and fire in June… but that’s not the point of this post.

“What do we say when the youth pastor leaves?”

Church leaders: Tell the truth. If the person quit, just say they quit. You don’t have to spin it. Just tell it like it is.

But if you are firing them, I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who were fired and then asked to enter into an agreement (never in writing) that for a sum of money they will say that they have decided to quit. Hundreds. If you are man or woman enough to fire a person than be man or woman enough to tell the congregation. You don’t pay severence to someone you are firing to cover up the fact that you are firing them. You pay them severance because they are self-employed and ineligible to claim unemployment benefits. It only makes matters worse when you fire a person and then put on a charade that you are sad to see them go. You throw a party, you say all sorts of glowing things in public when you know full well that you sat in a board room and decided this person needed to be fired. If you lie, your lie will be found out. Your sin will be exposed and the embarrassment you were trying to avoid will come back to haunt you for years. If you made a brave decision as the leadership of the church then it is a sign of your strength as leaders. When you try to wuss out, it shows what kind of leaders you are.

The truth always wins.

Church staff: Tell the truth. If the leaders of your church dismissed a person don’t ever lie about it. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “The leaders decided to go another direction.” You don’t have to go into the specifics of why the person was fired. But don’t participate in the leaders lie if they are trying to spin the truth. That makes you party to the lie! Your corroborating the leaders story and remember, the truth will come out eventually. And remember, this is exactly how you will be treated if they let you go later.

The truth always wins.

Youth Pastor: Tell the truth. I have been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to have that meeting where the leaders tell you that you aren’t the person they want pastoring their kids anymore. I have felt my world crash around me in that moment. I’ve looked across that table when they told me what to say. They are going to wave a big check in front of your eyes and you are going to think, “How else can I feed my family? How will I pay my rent? How will I have enough money to get the heck out of here?Just don’t get bought by Satan. Think about it… would Jesus ask you to lie in His name? Not telling the truth is telling a lie! Church leaders who ask you to lie for a little bit of money are doing the work of your sworn enemy. Walk out of that meeting with integrity. Do not cave to their pressure and promise of financial security to further their lie. They will end up offering you the same severance check anyway… because it is the right thing to do and the congregation will demand it. Moreover, your telling a lie to the congregation will only make matters worse. They are trying to get you to take the fall because they know you are leaving the church.

Candidates for youth ministry positions: Find the truth. Your well-being and the well-being of your family and future ministry depend on you discovering the truth! If you are interviewing at a church you need to talk to the former youth worker. During the interview process ask the search committee about the previous person. Then ask for their email address or phone number so you may contact them. This is 2009, you can find them in 10 minutes on the internet. Be a detective and get to the truth as to why that person left. If there is a lie… don’t take the job. This is precisely how you will be treated. If the previous youth worker was fired and the pastor and the elders participated in that lie, confront them! No matter how good they make that job sound, that entire relationship will be based on lies unless they come clean. Confront their sin and then don’t take the job. Show them what a leader looks like.

Some may read this and think, “Boy, Adam McLane has a chip on his shoulder about this. You would be correct. I am sick of seeing my friends in ministry asked to lie for a few thousand bucks. I am sick of churches hiding the fact that have fired a person. I am tired of the Bride of Christ doing things that are worse– even illegal— than what happens in the business world. I know that a healthy ministry can only be built on the truth. And it is time to speak up and get some truth out there.

hmm... thoughts

Lies of Youth Ministry, part 2

The second lie of youth ministry is that it is all about discipleship. This is a lie which starts with bad hermeneutics, continues with training built around selective theology, and is encouraged by inward looking church leaders.

Here’s how this lie plays out. Most youth ministers are wholly focused on building the size of their program. If they work for a church, having a large and busy youth program means that they can justify their salary and spend their time thinking about ways to add more programs to make their programs bigger and busier. If they work for a parachurch it’s even simpler as givers like to see numbers… as in the United States big numbers mean you are significant so “hundreds” sounds so much more significant¬† than “tens.”

The thinking of both is backwards because we think that if we disciple a lot of people, we will grow. And, if you are in a church context the busier you keep the church kids the more “discipleship” you are seen as doing from the bosses and parents perspective.

In fact, as I was trained, discipleship predicates evangelism. To state the lie more clearly, most youth ministries training programs teach that in order to reach more people we have to focus on training those you have. And some of the training I’ve received suggest 2-3 years of discipleship before you try to reach a single person.

Two quick theological points for this lie.

#1 Check out the parable of the lost sheep. When you do ministry in a community with “lost sheep” (meaning students who haven’t heard the gospel) do you think you should focus your attention on “the 99?” I think youth ministry should be focused primarily on evangelism and reaching the lost and secondarily mentoring the found. A lot of my fellow youth workers like to mention that Jesus only had a small discipleship group of 12. But let’s not forget that he had 12 disciples while reaching, feeding, and performing miracles to the multitudes.

#2 In a single sitting, read Acts 2-4. Go ahead. I’ll wait. So what did you see? I saw that the leaders didn’t wait for 2-3 years while new believers were being discipled. They were compelled by the urgency of the gospel! In fact, they discipled while reaching multitudes. The more institutional the church gets the less people they reach. So while many youth workers build programs, they miss thousands of opportunities to be on the front lines at their schools reaching lost kids day-by-day.

You see, if youth ministry is all about discipleship, it never would have gotten started in the first place! The reason parachurch youth ministry got rolling in the 40s-60s was because the “church” thought Jesus’s salvation was for the church kids.

Youth workers (paid, volunteer, expert, rookies) don’t get caught in the lie of reaching the found and being satisfied with the lost finding you. Coddling the apathetic, baysitting the saved, and entertaining the church’s youth is not why we do youth ministry. We do youth ministry to reach the lost!

And we disciple our church kids best by being Christ-like in our walk with Jesus. Read Acts 2-4 again... it’s a two-fold plan for discipleship, isn’t it?

Church leaders: Wanna see your church grow? Try reaching people without a program. Get out of the office and start serving IN your community instead of serving OUTSIDE of your community.

Part one: The 10% Rule

Part two: It’s about discipleship

Part three: You have to have a youth pastor

Church Leadership Marketing

Lies of Youth Ministry, Part One

Boys and girls in youth ministry we’ve got some problems. We in youth ministry, as a tribe, believe some lies about who we are, what we’re about, and how we should be reaching students. Let’s address these and move forward to fix them, OK?

#1 Your ministry is “successful” if you have 10% of Sunday morning attendance. My entire youth ministry career has been wrapped up in the local church so I can state this from experience. But let’s bear in mind historical perspective to understand this lie before we can look at a solution. The current version of Youth Ministry is really a reaction to the success of early parachurch ministries. Back in the late 1940s modern youth ministry was born when Youth for Christ hired Billy Graham to lead crusades to reach teenagers… and boy did that work! YFC’s crusades scratched a cultural itch since teens had been left out of the local church with the emergence of adolescence. (Adolescence is only about 120 years old!) As a strong middle class was born out of post-WWII days adolescent teen culture blossomed and the church was seen as irrelevant to teens. Gradually, in the early 1960s the American church responded in a big way to numerical victories of parachurch ministries. Churches were tired of seeing all of the students go to YoungLife and Youth for Christ… so they started hiring those organization’s staff to run programs in local churches.

It was a great concept, but from the very beginning youth ministry was seen by church leadership as a way to hold onto church kids and maybe, just maybe, reach new families. This fixed a problem parachurches had without truly addressing the church issue that created the parachurch need in the first place… no place for non-believers to be ministered to.

The truth is that local churches royally ruined what the parachurches were doing. To even call what most churches do “youth ministry” is demeaning to its evangelistic heritage. Instead of youth pastors being hired to reach a high school they were hired to grow/maintain a local church. (In fact, I’ve talked to countless youth pastors who were fired for trying to reach lost students!) The lie is that a good youth ministry is about growing a church. In most cases, a youth pastor’s job is so limited and focused on the church that it’s really not about reaching lost kids at all. (Appropriate lip service is always about evangelism!) I’ve actually sat in youth ministry networks and listened to youth pastors sound satisfied that they are reaching 50-60 students with their ministry. The target isn’t a percentage of butts in seats on Sunday morning! Reaching 50 students while 1950 have never heard the gospel is a gross failure.

True success comes when you reach and disciple brand new people for Jesus Christ! The first lie points to the fact that church-based youth ministry largely lies to itself and calls itself a success when it reaches less than 1% of students in a community. Is it the individual youth pastor’s fault? Absolutely not. It’s a design flaw worth addressing. The truly successful youth ministries in this country focus on the lost in their schools and could care less what percentage of saved church kids come to their programs.

Questions for youth workers: Do you agree with my use of the term “lie?” If so, what are some ideas for fixing this in your context? If you don’t agree, I still love you. But I’d like to hear your push back.

Lie #2 It’s about discipleship

Lie #3 You have to have a youth pastor