When I began my first full-time youth ministry position, I had a utopian view of what it’d be like working in a church. I believed that since everyone loved Jesus it’d be an ideal work environment; I expected to hear “Kum-Bah-Yah” in the background as we closed our staff meetings. Reality hit me soon after the last book went from box to bookshelf.
A few years ago, Your Church magazine ran a series about “Forced Exits” (Mar/Apr 1996). They reported that almost one fourth of senior pastors had been fired, forced to resign, or pressured to resign. They also discovered that 91 percent of senior pastors knew three to four pastors who’d been forced to exit. I personally know four youth pastors who’ve lost their jobs this past year.
Bob Long, the national youth ministry director of the Baptist General Conference, shared this: “A high dose of cynicism is sadly normal in veteran youth pastors as a result of seeing the church in action over the years.” I wanted to hold on to my naivety and deny what he observed, but I knew it was true.
Originally appeared in Youthworker Journal June/July 2003
An unspoken theme I’ve sensed at national youthworkers conventions is this deep need for healing and rest for those in youth ministry. There seems to be a desperate cry for hearing that things will be okay, this deep need for encouragement to keep pursuing the call. It’s heartbreaking to know that so many people called into youth ministry feel beat up and hurt by their church. I appreciated Len’s honesty in this article.
Spending time sharing the Christian journey and loving on youth should be a joy. Here are a few joy killers I’ve observed for youthworkers:
Fatigue – too many of us neglect to rest (see earlier post on sabbath). A wise youth worker friend pointed out that the church will gladly let you work 50-60 hours a week and miss taking any of your vacation days if you let it.
Isolation – youth ministry is a quirky area….who really understands the unique challenges you face of serving youth, parents, future youth, expectations? When the pastor is also your boss, who do you talk to when you need pastoral care? A supportive network of Youthworker friends and/or mentors can be a joy saver.
Expectations – so often expectations are unclear, implied, unrealistic or uncommunicated. When the focus shifts from making disciples to counting heads, joy can be lost. Sometimes the performance expectations are from the church, just as often they are self-imposed.
Prayerfully, we can remember this is God’s work. If we are called to ministry by God, He will be faithful to use us as we are to do the work He has set for us.
Maybe we all just need a hug and to be told it’s all going to be okay. Be encouraged! It’s worth it.