The other day I was talking to one of my youth ministry friends about the rarity of long-term youth pastors in a local church setting. In the course of that conversation, I realized that there are a decent amount of guys who have been in youth ministry for a long time (20-30 years). These guys often speak at various youth ministry conventions and other training opportunities. However, very rarely are those guys in a local church setting. They tend to be youth ministry professors, camp directors, denominational leaders, parachurch ministry professionals, or professional speakers. Some have even started their own non-profit ministry to do what they’ve always loved without the headaches, heartaches, or hurts that come from local church ministry.
I’m glad that some guys have gotten out of youth ministry. Not because they were horrible, but because they had gifts to share with the larger body of Christ. They include numerous former youth pastors who have become church planters. Some have taken on a senior pastor position. Others have moved on missions or other forms of influence. Personally, I’m glad that Billy Graham, Ted Engstrom, Andy Stanley, J.C. Watts and Dan Kimball stopped being youth workers. If you need to quit youth ministry to pursue a new passion or your gifts have changed, great! Keep serving Jesus—but remember to give your youth pastor a good budget and salary when you’re in charge or on the board.
I can understand the appeal of those positions and I’ve considered almost all of those different ways to do youth ministry without being in a local church. But the question remains, why don’t more of us remain in full-time local church youth ministry for 20 plus years?
I remember being in seminary and talking with all my fellow youth ministry seminarians who were convinced that they would be doing youth ministry until they die. If commonly used statistics are true, fourteen years later 25-40% of them aren’t even in ministry, let alone youth ministry.
It’s a shame when youth ministers quit because of discouragement, hurt, isolation or pain from being in ministry. These dangers, toils, and snares can come from within the individual or from within a local congregation. After being fired abruptly by a stereotypical CEO Senior Pastor, I’ve now survived my own year and a half “dark night of the soul.” It took time to heal and thankfully we found a great church that allowed us the time and space to do so. Because of my time in the Youth Pastor ICU, I’m now able to be back in local church youth ministry.
It’s glorious. I’ve been back in the youth ministry saddle for almost nine months and there are still days where I go to work giddy. It’s my goal to retire in local church youth ministry. Is it because I can’t do anything else? No, it’s because I can’t do anything else! I’m compelled to care for students and their families in a local church setting because I think it’s the thing that I can do best to make Jesus smile the most.
So when you become discouraged in your church, push through, keep loving the local church, and I’ll save you a whoopee-cushioned rocking chair in the youth pastor retirement home. The harvest is plentiful but quality workers are few.