How To Say Goodbye To Youth Ministry
Just two short months ago, I sat in a room with a team of consultants who were visiting our church to help us refocus on our mission: helping people who are far from God begin a saving relationship with Jesus. Toward the end of my individual interview with the consulting team, the conversation turned to my career aspirations. One of the team members asked me how long I could see myself being a youth pastor. My answer was simple and genuine: if I reached the age of sixty-five and had spent my entire ministry career working with high school students, God would have been far too good to me.
I really meant it. In fact, when I begin my first youth ministry job, I loved it so much that I never wanted to do anything else. And when some well-meaning soul would ask me when I was going to move on from youth ministry (and become a “real” pastor), I was usually upset at the question. I didn't see any reason to look forward to something else, because God had called me to be a youth pastor.
Today, I find myself in a very unfamiliar position: I am no longer a youth pastor.
The week after the consultants gave their report to our senior leadership, I was asked to take on a new role at our church and tackle some of the challenges the consulting team believed were holding us back as a church. Even as I write this, I feel a twinge of sadness. I loved being a youth pastor. Not only was it a ton of fun, but God has been far too gracious to me to give me the privilege of seeing Him change the lives of countless teenagers and families through Jesus.
When I look around at most of the youth pastors I know, only a handful are in their 40s, and very few are in their in their 50s. I'm going to take that very unscientific observation to mean that most of the youth pastors in their 20s and 30s who are reading this—even those who believe now they are “lifers” and won't ever leave youth ministry—won't be leading a youth ministry by the time the next decade or two roll around. With that in mind, it's important to address something that we don't often talk about as youth workers: how to say “goodbye” to youth ministry.
Whether you're in that place now or you need to tuck this post away for a few years (or decades) from now, here's three thoughts on how to say goodbye:
Be An Advocate
Most effective youth ministries have a common ingredient working behind the scenes: at least one advocate in the church who reminds other influencers that teenagers matter to God. This kind of advocate helps the youth ministry (and youth pastor) have the resources needed to reach teenagers far from God with the good news that Jesus died for them. When you reach your 40s and beyond and prove yourself to be a mature follower of Jesus who loves the Church, you'll likely have a certain amount of influence with your church's leadership and other influencers that you never had in your 20s. Use that influence to give your church's youth ministry and youth pastor the support they need to reach teenagers in your community.
Be A Mentor
If you survived in youth ministry for more than a few years without getting fired or burned out, chances are one of the reasons was because you had a good mentor somewhere along the way. Whether you leave youth ministry to enter the marketplace or you simply begin serving in a different pastoral role, you have an important qualification that most people don't: you know what it's actually like to be a youth pastor. There are some things about being a youth pastor that only a youth pastor can understand. Use your experience to mentor a youth pastor through the joys and pains of youth ministry.
Never Say Goodbye
Leaving youth ministry doesn't mean that you need to actually leave youth ministry. Just because you're no longer a youth pastor doesn't mean you can't continue to invest in the lives of teenagers. Lead a small group. Coach a high school soccer team. Volunteer for your church's junior high all-nighter (after all, you'll remember how difficult it is to find willing adults for that event). You likely became a youth pastor in the first place because you love being with and serving teenagers, so keep doing what you love. You might even discover that youth ministry is perhaps a little more fun when you're not the guy or gal in charge.