YM Essentials: To Stick Around? Or To Jump Ship?
[NOTE: Every once in a while I'll dig up an old ym360 blog post that maybe got a lot of traction in the past and is still relevant. This one definitely fits the bill. The conversation in the comments is really helpful, and I think the issue of longevity is still as relevant as ever. Read, enjoy the conversation afterwards, and add your thoughts.--Andy]
A while back, I attended a large gathering of youth workers from around the country. I ran into a friend of mine who has been a youth pastor for nearly 35 years. Running into him got me thinking about the idea of longevity. And after stewing on it for a couple of weeks, I think I might have come to a conclusion. I'd love your input, especially if you think I am missing something. My conclusion is this:
I don't think longevity is something that many youth pastors value.
I don't run into a lot of youth pastors whose goal is to stay in one place for a while. Or for that matter, to stay in youth ministry for a while. The reasons and motivations are many, and I won't venture to make any judgments on the decisions men and women make.
But the lack of longevity in student ministry creates some issues. As my veteran youth pastor friend and I talked about his nearly four decades in youth ministry, he said something profound. He said that he sees two real problems with not establishing yourself at a specific church for at least one "ministry cycle" (i.e., sticking around to see a group of 6th or 7th graders graduate high school):
- Experience: Can you really have the experience needed to set goals, make evaluations, and lead a ministry until you have watched the same group go all the way through? I don't know the answer, but it's a really interesting question . . .
- Influence: Simply put, influence is earned through proven results over a period of time. It's very difficult to influence someone--whether that be a senior pastor, a volunteer, a parent, or a student--if you aren't around long enough to develop the relational capital to yield influence.
When we commit to staying at a church for a significant period of time, it seems like we develop invaluable experience, and the ability to impact and influence people.
So, the question is "Can we identify factors that lead to the under-valuing of longevity by so many youth pastors?"
Here's a few thoughts I had. I'm interested to hear what you think:
Longevity at a single company is no longer a value in our culture. Gone are the days of the "gold watch" rewarded for a lifetime of faithful service. Most people will work for four or five companies in their lifetimes. Many will work for more than this. Has this mindset trickled over into the church? Are we always purely motivated by the call of the Spirit? Or are we sometimes motivated by the pull of our cultural context? Are we culturally conditioned to look for greener pastures?
Seeing Obstacles As Exit Signs
So often it seems like we view friction and relational issues as a sign to bail out. Of course, ongoing strife can be a sign that we need to seek a new opportunity. But, is this always so? I think that perseverance and steadfastness are some qualities we as youth workers could work a little harder to develop. Conflict is not always the exit sign. What if we didn't look to jump ship each time there was a difficult time at our churches?
The Lone Wolf Syndrome
I see quite a few youth pastors leaving the local church to pursue consultant gigs, or to become full time speakers. While I believe God most definitely calls some to do this, and while we operate in a church cultural context that has created (and by extension values) these positions, I humbly ask the question, "Is it better (or more biblical?) to remain in the local church?" (I'm not excluded from my own question: I've worked in three para-church youth organizations, and benefit financially from speaking at retreats and conferences. I've also been a youth ministry volunteer in the local church for 13 years and have seen the power of relationship as it pertains to discipleship.) When so many excellent, highly qualified and trained youth pastors leave the local church to speak and consult, students lose valuable relational connection points.
Of course, we know that God absolutely calls us to leave churches and join with other churches. It happens all the time. This type of transition isn't what I am questioning.
I think we have to honestly ask ourselves if we're always motivated by God's call, or if there is something else in play.
I would REALLY welcome some conversation on this one. What do you think? Am I way off? Is longevity a value we should seek? Or is it merely a by-product of the environments we find ourselves serving in?