Archives For Leaving Youth Ministry

How do we leave a youth ministry better than we found it?

An interesting question and the answer depends on how you found the youth ministry.  If you are following a high-personality youth minister then it might be difficult (but it can be done) or if you follow a youth minister who had a bad experience then it might be easy.  This is a quick post because this seems like a no-brainer to me.  Five quick ways (4 if you are single) to ensure your ministry will be better than you found it.

  1. From the very first day make sure you serve as humbly as you can.  Really bro…the ministry is not about you or a personality and contrary to your amazing God-given talents (not being sarcastic) the ministry will survive with or without you.  Churches move on and so do youth ministers.  You want to leave a youth ministry better than you found it.  Make sure it is saturated with an outpouring of humility.
  2. Empower parents every step of the way and make sure they are as involved as possible.  you are dealing with their kids and they just might have insight as to how to effectively minister to their children.  They are your warriors when you need something done and they are your backbone when you don’t have the strength to attend another event.  If you want to quickly ruin your ministry then start doing things yourself and don’t involve anyone.  You will burn out, fizzle, and the kids and the entire church will suffer.  But on the bright side you will make it easier for the next guy to be successful.
  3. Make this a student-led ministry.  You don’t have to have some fancy name for leadership among your teens just make sure you do it on purpose and do it often.  Find new and exciting ways to let the students lead trips, programs, bible studies or anything in between.
  4. Bathe yourself in the spiritual disciplines.   Prayer, study, meditation, service, accountability, confession, discernment and others all serve as tools to help you grow closer to God.  I sometimes struggle with depression and there are times that I get so down I find myself doubting my ministry, my calling and God’s purposes in my life.  Spiritual formation helps me get my feet on the ground.  So does something else…
  5. If you are married and have children, make them a priority not the church or your job.   There is always going to be a text message, a Facebook post, a bible lesson, a teenage girl drama crises that needs your attention.  You only have one shot a raising your children.  You only have one shot at developing your marriage.  When you say no to things at church because family is important more times than naught they will look at you and realize you are a man of purpose who loves his wife and his children.  They too will hopefully do the same in their marriage and be examples to further generations.  Why?  Because you said no to that “important meeting” that you were required to go to but instead you chose to go to Wal-Mart with your wife and kids ;)!!!

Those are five.  what would you add?


Is there a bottom line to youth ministry?  Reading the New Testament it is hard to give a “bottom line” to the ministry of Jesus but I would venture to say that Luke 19:10 is as close as you get: “For the son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost.”  So if we take youth ministry and ask, “What is the bottom line?” a number of possibilities arise.

  • Youth Ministry is about seeking relationships with teenagers (Relational).
  • Youth Ministry is about saving lost souls (Missional).
  • Youth Ministry is about aiding the family in the spiritual formation of their children (Familial).
  • Youth Ministry is about involving students in activities and giving them opportunities to serve (Program).
  • Youth Ministry is about training students in the Word and helping them understand what God’s will is for their lives (Theological).

So which is it?  What is the bottom line of youth ministry?  Looking at the list I could make a case that all of those are a part of youth ministry but not necessarily the bottom line.  Doug Fields, in his book Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, outlined five components that is the core of what Saddleback was doing in their youth ministry and church (evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and worship).  That’s a pretty good start.  I think even that misses the point though as not everything in ministry falls into five categories (although I do like them).

Bottom line though for me has to start with the personhood of Jesus Christ.  I line my “bottom line” with Andy Root’s Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry in that each person (or ministry) must ask three questions which has three understandings of our mission (pp.83-141):

  • Who is Jesus Christ?  (Jesus is our pattern for mission)
  • Where is Jesus Christ (We participate in the presence of Jesus)
  • What then shall we do? (We join God’s mission of enfleshment i.e. incarnational mission)

Our work in youth ministry, bottom line, is grounded in Jesus.  Big revelation, Robbie!  could it really be that simple?  It is and it isn’t.  It’s simple in that the New Testament seeks to follow Christ and his mission in the righting of wrongs and the saving of people and the in-breaking of the kingdom but it is complicated because we are fallen.  We deal with imperfect systems and imperfect people (including our own brokenness).  But, it is that point where we encounter people as Christ encounters us.  Andy Root envisions the youth worker as a place-sharer coming alongside of people in the place that they are:

Practicing relational youth ministry as place-sharing means opening our arms and saying, “I will bear this load with you.  Fear not, you are not alone.  God is near to us, for Jesus is your true advocate.  Let us together hope for God’s return.”  Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, p. 129-30.

So we all join together not sure of what may happen next but waiting in anticipation saying with all the saints in the kingdom past, present and future: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

Businessman leavingThis past Saturday I was pondering the story of Josiah when he first discovered (or was shown) the scroll that contained the Law.  Josiah’s reaction to what he read is known to most as Josiah’s reforms.  These reforms mostly involved vast eradication of the idols that were present in the nation of Israel at that time (2 Kings 23:4-20) and the restoration of the Passover to common practice (23:21-27).  Josiah’s vision caused a whole kingdom to change their ways and to go back to the core of where they started.  As a youth minister for a church of Christ we know the powerful need for us to return to original principles of Scripture and to eradicate many practice in our churches that are, well, idolatrous.  I was thinking about Josiah and came across the rest of the story and saw perhaps where Josiah failed.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three when he began to reign…and he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord…(23:31-32).

What Josiah did was radical.  What Josiah did was worthy of our praise.  But it didn’t last.  It was not a matter of two or three successors where evil was introduced but it was his own son who did evil in the sight of God.  I was thinking about Main Street and our youth ministry here and I told the college group that if I were to leave that the ministry would continue to exist.  I have no illusions (or delusions) that I have to be at Main Street for it to be successful (I would argue there are still things I need to work on) but I wonder what would happen if I did leave.

If all the radical work I did for parents, students and families were to be uprooted by the next minister then another question comes to me: What am I (we) doing now to make this ministry, to use a Jim Collins term, built to last?

Different questions then pop up from this discussion that I think needs to be at the core of youth ministry:

  • Do we need youth ministers?
  • What is the bottom-line role for youth ministers?
  • What should leadership look like in a youth ministry?
  • How do we leave a youth ministry better than we started?
  • When is the “right time” to leave a youth ministry?
  • How do we incorporate youth ministry within the large context of the church body and does doing so contribute to the sustainability of a youth ministry?
  • How should youth ministers deal with the ebb and flow of youth ministry coupled with growing tensions from various theological positions?
All of these questions have various implications on the future of a youth ministry regardless of creed.  My interest is for the church and how we can make youth ministries go from personality-shape to theology-shaped.  I lament at seeing youth ministries incur whiplash when a personality leaves when such could be avoided at the forefront.  My goal is to write a series of blog posts on how to leave a youth ministry better than you found it but most importantly in a way in which it will last.
I am not sure how long the series will be but it is my intention to give it my all and to think about these issues seriously and deeply.
Would you join me?