Commitment

How committed to your church community are you, youth ministers? How much would it hurt were you to leave them? Do you value them? Do they value you? Do you, together, value Christ above all and help each other do that?

It’s not often a youth minister sticks around somewhere for a long time. 18 months, apparently, is the average they stay in one place – then they either move on to a new church, or walk away from ministry. Why is this? Commitment is the word that I want to propose is the answer. In two ways.

Commitment from the youth minister to the church. I remember having a conversation with another youth minister recently in which he told me that he couldn’t imagine leaving where he is because he doesn’t want to leave the people behind – he cares about them too much. Oddly enough, that hadn’t occurred to me before. But his commitment to this church has meant that a lot has come of it. Those who used to be bratty youth are now lunchtime group leaders, ministering to bratty youth who will, God willing, become the next lot of leaders! I think this person’s commitment to this community has a massive affect on that.

Coversely, a lack of commitment will often mean a lack of relationship – and a lack of depth. It’s much easier to walk away. But also much easier to do ministry when you’re not mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Much simpler. But… that’s not what we’re called to. We’re called to commit. To share life.

But as with every coin, there are two sides to this…

A churches commitment to the youth minister. I tweeted about this earlier and was reminded by someone that often churches want new and exciting things out of youth ministers, and that after a while, a person just stops being so exciting. This makes me wonder about whether or not senior ministers and youth ministers are on the same page about youth ministry – and ministry in general, dare I say.

Youth ministry is ministry, just like every other. Just as valid as every other. Lunchtime groups, high school SRE, BBQs at skate parks… it’s all evangelism. Small groups are discipleship. Youth group talks are (dare I say it) preaching. Why do we diminish it?* If churches placed value on youth ministry, as they do every other ministry, we’ll see churches wanting and fighting for youth ministers to stick around. Not for their egos sake – but for ministries sake.

It is also a commitment to someone’s growth. I look back two years and wonder why I was hired for my current position. In spite of all the ups and downs, and all the triumphs and failures, they’ve remained supportive.

That amazes me. That blesses me. And if churches committed to seeing someone grow and change and do ministry and grow ministry… maybe it would be different. Maybe 18 months would turn into 18 years.

Your thoughts?

*Full disclosure: this thought is pretty much straight from one of Graham Stanton’s facebook statuses.

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8 thoughts on “Commitment

  1. I think that part of the problem is also that people have a very narrow view of who is suitable for youth ministry. There seems to be this idea that you are only fit for youth ministry whilst you are in your 20’s.

    As a youth minister myself (no longer in my 20s), I regularly hear comments from congregation members, as well as from other people in full-time ministry, expressing the sentiment that youth ministry is something that I likely won’t be involved in for all that much longer.

    Why is this the case?

    Partly I think, because people assume that once you’re beyond your 20s there’s some kind of inability to connect with teenagers that exists. I would strongly refute this. Although the dynamic of that kind of pastoral relationship is going to change, there’s still very effective gospel ministry that can be done.

    Many people (again within congregations, and within ministry) as you have noted, also view youth ministry as a ‘stepping stone’ towards what they consider to be ‘real ministry’ (ie think assistant minister and then on to senior minister). Sadly (in my opinion) the epitome of ministry for many young guys in ministry seems to be to make it to senior minister as quickly as possible and/or to plant your own church. This often leaves valuable positions such as youth minister or childrens minister under-valued and often neglected.

    If ministers in youth ministry are willing, along with their senior minister, to take a long term approach to the ministry, there’s a very powerful impact for the gospel waiting to be unleashed.

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    1. Guys like Tim Hawkins and Doug Fields have been doing youth ministry forever and are legends not in spite of how long they’ve done it, but because of it. I think youth ministry outside your 20’s improves because your maturity has.

      That said, i’m in my 20’s…

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  2. I’ve been at All Saints Petersham doing youth ministry full time 7 years going on 8 next year, and it’s brilliant! I saw my first year 7s finish their HSC last year!
    One point to note is that even a very average youth minister can do extraordinary things given a long enough time: more time: more love: love covers over a multitude of sins 🙂

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  3. Thanks Tamara.

    It really is a complex issue! As with any ministry there are complications at a number of levels.

    1. Youth Minister – Church
    2. Youth Minister – Parents
    3. Youth Minister – Youth Leaders
    4. Youth Minister – Elders
    5. Youth Minister – Youth
    6. Youth Minister – Family
    7. Youth Minister – God

    All of these come together in a melting pot and it can be tricky to know when things are going well and when it is time to leave.

    I wonder if most youth ministers end up leaving because of “burn out” (that is not caring for themselves) and/or because of poor decisions they have made relationally with 1-6 above.

    Of course the other side of the coin is that some churches are not able to continue to financially support their staff…

    A final thought…. (more controversial maybe) given the affects of the “GFC” and that there are less jobs around… I wonder if people will stay longer because they don’t have any alternative! Maybe “the good old days” when there was more $$$ people felt like they could change positions more quickly. This is not the case anymore.

    Mick

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  4. Here’s something I wrote for someone about Youth Ministers not staying long term:
    “I wonder if part of the reason is because Youth Ministry has been too narrowly defined in people’s minds as only working with young people, when the reality is that Youth Ministry is as much about working with parents, adults, children and whole families as it is about working with young people themselves. I wonder if people then feel as though their ministry is limited in such a narrowly defined Youth Ministry and so they either use Youth Ministry as a stepping stone to family/adult/parish ministry and therefore only stay in Youth Ministry short term, or they skip Youth Ministry all together feeling as though they will used to greater effect in adult/family/parish ministry. Such a narrowly defined Youth Ministry may also lead to frustration when the penny drops that a Youth Minister needs to be involved in whole church planning and ministry but lacks the job description or power or responsibility to have any say over how Youth Ministry fits into the church they serve in… therefore the logical next step is to leave Youth Ministry and train for adult/family/parish ministry so you can have more control.”

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    1. Wise words.
      Matt Jacobs has been thinking through submission over at his tumblr and part of what he’s concluded seems similar to yours.

      So how does the mindshift happen between what we’ve got now (which in Youthworks language is youth ministry as one ear of a Mickey Mouse head, separate from the rest) and move into the more Biblically sound and God-glorifying model of the whole church as one body? Without turning into the dudes who made Undivided, that is.

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