A couple weeks ago I was talking to a young youth worker in his early 20’s who said, “Kurt, I want to be a youth ministry lifer like you. How do I do that?” To which I responded, “Well, I don’t even know if I’m a youth ministry lifer! Track me down in another twenty years.”
While I may not know for certain that I’m a youth ministry lifer (who does, really?), I do know that I’ve managed to stay in it for quite a while and I think I’ve discovered a few things along the way that have helped. So whether you are a 20-something newbie hoping to be a lifer or a 50-something veteran hoping to last a few more years, I think I have some insights. And for the rest of the month, that’s what we’ll discuss in this little Wednesday series. And of course, for this to be a true discussion, we will need some of your input in the comments section. Add a thought, ask a question, push back…let’s talk about staying in youth ministry for the long haul!
——– | Students love these small group resources! | ———
The Long Haul Requires a Long View!
Other than the occasional pat on the back for a fun game or a decent youth talk, youth ministry has very little to offer in the short term; there’s not a whole lot of instant gratification. Think about it: Teenagers can be punks, parents can be a hassle, you don’t get paid much, your youth budget is one of the smallest in the church, the youth group gets blamed for every dent and scratch on the church property, people assume that you want to be a “real pastor” some day, endless pizza parties give you the cholesterol count of a 70-year old, and you constantly wonder how long you can pretend to enjoy lock-ins.
A favorite object lesson among youth workers is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. We use that analogy to encourage our students to hang in there, not focus solely on the setbacks and struggles of the here and now, but to have a long view in life…to see life as a journey. I’d suggest we take the same approach with our youth ministry careers. Here are three benefits of having a long view that will help you last for the long haul.
- A long view helps you see past the current frustrations.
There is so much in the day-to-day world of youth ministry that, if you let it, will easily cause you to wonder how long you want to stay in the game. Fruit takes time to ripen, health takes time to develop and if you get out of the game while you are still planting seeds, you miss out on the harvest to come!
- A long view helps you feel secure and confident.
When you determine that, if God allows, you are going to stay in the game for as long as possible, it settles all sorts of things that typically cause insecurity for youth workers. You settle on the fact that you won’t make a ton of money and adjust accordingly. You settle on the fact that you will always be viewed as the gym teacher of the ministry world, and decide to be the best gym teacher ever. You acknowledge that as you become a better and better youth pastor other opportunities to “move up” will present themselves but they won’t be tempting because you know what you are about for the foreseeable future.
- A long view helps you pass the off-ramps.
Over the course of a twenty-six year youth ministry career, all sorts of “off- ramps” have presented themselves; moments when it would have been easy and perfectly understandable for me to transition out of youth ministry. Getting married, having our first child, my wife wanting to work less, having our second child, the desire to buy our first home, my 30th and 40th birthdays etc. are all examples of “seasons of life” that were fairly obvious youth ministry off-ramps. Nobody would have faulted me for transitioning into a less frantic and higher paying role (think about it…who turns down EASIER and HIGHER PAYING? Youth workers with a long view.). But when you are on a long road trip, you gotta pass some tempting off ramps to get to your ultimate destination. One of the easiest ways to stay involved in youth ministry for the long haul is to simply avoid the off-ramps!
There’s much more lasting in youth ministry, and we will discuss those for a few more weeks, but I think the best way to be a long-haul youth worker is to start by having a long-view.
Challenges are part of the youth ministry life; but you’re not alone and you can be prepared. For more encouragement and ideas for how to to deal with the challenges of youth ministry from fellow youth workers, check out “It Happens” by Will Pener, on sale this week for $2.99. Click here to take a look.