We all know the reputation: “The average youth pastor stays at a church for 18 months.” Ouch. And it was true and often still is true of our colleagues. However, Group Magazine’s research has shown that it’s actually more like 4 years. But perception is reality. There are too many of us who are bailing in time frames measured in months rather than years. Fortunately for us worship leaders seem to be the new short termers. Sorry. Cheap shot. Love you guys and your faux hawks.
Anyway…when I started in youth ministry over a decade ago I took a summer internship during college at a church, knowing that I didn’t want to work in a church and I didn’t want to work with junior high and high school kids. But as I heard the kids recount stories of previous summer interns as if they had died in a freak flannel graph incident, “Remember Jim…he was fun. We never did hear from him again…” my heart broke for these students who didn’t need someone to plan games or lessons as much as they needed someone to walk with them OVER TIME.
So I convinced the church to hire me on part time through my senior year of college and stayed on there part time AFTER graduating college—because we all want to graduate from college and get two part-time jobs. But from that first formative summer I began to value longevity in youth ministry.
We might think that our 2nd year is twice as fruitful or effective as our first, or that our 3rd and 4th are 3 times and 4 times more impactful. The reality is that our investment over time doesn’t yield incremental impact but exponential impact.
That is, your 2nd year doesn’t yield twice as much influence (i) 2 x i but influence squared, i2. And your 3rd year isn’t 3 x i but i3, 5th year not 5 x i but i5 and so forth. Okay… so they didn’t teach me good math at youth pastor school.
The idea is that the longer you stay the greater the impact. That 5th year, 8th year, 10th year is invaluable. There’s no substitute for year after year investment with the same faith community, working through struggle, resolving conflict, and watching kids grow through various seasons of their lives.
That doesn’t mean we are never called to another ministry. We may leave our church. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to look for the next thing. Someone wisely told that we ought never leave when it’s bad. Work through the tough spot and leave when only it’s good. Sometimes we need to go. But we have to consider that with every move we sacrifice possibly our most valuable asset: time. Shared history.
In my community there’s a youth worker, Randy, who’s been at the same church for 20 years. He’s seen students graduate who he visited in the hospital when they were born, baptized when they were kids, walked with their families through all sorts of life experiences and changes. He’s helped with the weddings of many students as they’ve grown into adulthood. Now…you tell me that those of us who move every 18 months, 4 years, 6 years, have anywhere close to the impact that Randy has had just by investing in the same church family for so many years! 20 years = i20
Let’s be known as people who STAY year after year after year…