About a year ago, I had the privilege of conducting a phone interview with Duffy Robbins’ about his senior youth ministry seminar at Eastern University. Duffy started the interview with this curious statement: “My class liked your book and everything, but a number of students made the same comment, and I’d love to hear your response. They said, ‘After reading Sustainable Youth Ministry, I don’t know that I even want to do youth ministry anymore. It just sounds like a lot more work than I was expecting.’ ”
I responded, almost without thinking, “Awesome!”
“Sorry?” Duffy replied.
“Let me give you a little snapshot,” I said. “In our work, we get to see way too many fried youth workers, folks who expected their jobs to be a whole lot like being camp counselors. But they find themselves totally unprepared for the dizzying array of expectations that have nothing to do with relating to teenagers and leading programs. We get to see people on the other side: people who entered the world of youth ministry bright-eyed and passionate but then left prematurely, burned out and skulking away from ministry and often the church altogether.”
In Youth Ministry From the Inside Out, Mike Higgs writes: “Sadly, the longer you are in youth ministry, the longer the list of sidelined and flat-lined comrades becomes. And the obvious question is why?”
Here’s the answer: The time to decide you may not be a good fit for youth ministry isn’t after you’ve been called to a church, fallen in love with a group of kids, and subsequently found the pieces falling apart all around you. The time to make that decision is, well, before.
The crazy thing is that if we’re prepared for how hard youth ministry is, then, mysteriously, it often isn’t that hard after all. Every youth ministry is costly, exhausting, overwhelming, captivating, tedious, energizing, draining, thrilling, and, at times, severely stressful. To enter this vocation with your eyes closed to those challenges is like expecting your weekly three-mile runs to prepare you for a marathon.
Not building the right systems beneath a youth ministry virtually guarantees you’ll be blindsided and overwhelmed by the very situations that a well-prepared youth worker will handle with ease. But if you prepare to be prepared, it’s possible to love this work more with each passing year. ◊
Mark DeVries is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects and author of Sustainable Youth Ministry (Intervarsity Press). He and Jeff Dunn-Rankin are currently writing You’re Hired (Group), a book for youth workers looking for their next ministry position.