December 31st, 2012 was my last day as an official youth pastor. 7 and a half years now done. Now I am a church planter. What in the world am I doing?! And one of the biggest questions that I have wrestled with is this, is it my time to leave?
I think that most of us youth pastors (excluding those who have the perfect kids, loving parents, and a huge salary) often ask, when is it time to leave, and when is it time to just keep trucking. We live in a culture that loves change and is obsessed with finding the bigger and better. How many times have people asked us, when are you going to become a REAL pastor? HA. I love that question. But the reality is that being a youth pastor is HARD. How do you spell youth pastor? H.A.R.D. But God has called us to it and it can be SO rewarding too.
I wanted to let you into my life for a bit to help you see how I realized that it was time for me to start to pursue something else. Believe me, there were so many times that I wanted to find another job, take the easy road out, and let someone else deal with those kids. But I believe that God has been faithful to keep me here, helped me work through my junk, and now be ready and healthy to move on. Below in bold are some phases in youth ministry that I faced and how I responded to them.
The students don’t seem to be responding to me the way they used to.
Actually, this was 4 years ago. We had just graduated our first class from Freshman to Seniors and I wasn’t feeling it. Numbers at youth group were down. We were ready to start having friends older than 15 yrs old and things were harder than I thought they should be. There were some difficult times at our church with a new senior pastor and many families were leaving/being critical/etc. And some of my closest friends were moving out of town. I said to my wife, “I think that it’s time for us to start looking for something else”. She was supportive but asked, is God asking us to leave? Her question helped me realize this was a false start. This was me looking to take the easy road. Ministry is hard. There are seasons to everything and some classes/groups/years are harder than others. Its not our fault. We haven’t lost our mojo. It’s just hard. When I sought God, I realized He still wanted me where I was, it was me who was looking for something else.
I am having trouble ministering the way I used too.
Another false start. Two and a half years ago we had our first child. And wow, soccer games, plays, and late night events are hard to go to with a 2 month old! All of the sudden Vanessa couldn’t be as involved as she was (and she was VERY involved). I had to go home early to help with the baby. We didn’t have students over as much. And I started to feel like I was cheating the kids. I would tell myself that they needed someone a little more involved in their lives. But again, this was a season. I had to refocus again how we did ministry. More adult leaders. More empowerment. But when I asked God if he wanted me to stay, He responded with the same answer, “this is your place”.
I feel more respected by people outside of our church than inside our church!
There were actually other organizations that wanted me to work for them? The people here don’t know what they have in me! Yeah right! The grass is always greener on the other side and we evidently had what every church is looking for, “Experience”. I was feeling restless and imagining how nice it would be to start over and not have all of the baggage in our youth group (that I had created). But something was not right about moving. We sought the Lord, and even though these were outstanding opportunities, we knew that the time was not now.
God is giving me passion for church planting.
We were at a Vineyard conference. The topic was reaching the unreached and church planting. And God just started to mess with us. We had never wanted to be senior pastors, especially not church planters, but God started to ignite something in us that we had not experienced before. That was February 2012. We hoped it would go way, but it didn’t. It took us till May to share it with our Senior Pastor, and instead of kicking us out, he blessed us and told us that he saw a similar calling on our lives. “You do?” we thought. All of the sudden, church planting was all that we could think about. We started dreaming, and without even realizing it, our passions were changing. When it came time, our Senior Pastor asked us, are you ready to go through with this? I knew that if we didn’t take drastic steps towards church planting, we would be disobeying God. Instead of wanting to “leave”, we were ready to “go”, and I knew it was the right time to move on.
Gary Best once said to me, “One of the biggest realizations I have had in ministry happened when I changed my perspective from what can I accomplish in 5 years to what can I accomplish in 20-30 years”. Ministry is a long-term venture. Longevity is a HUGE value. I believe that most of us (especially me without wise council in my life) would not allow ourselves enough time in youth ministry to really accomplish all that God has for us.
So, to sum it up, I would say this. God has given you an assignment. Do it with all diligence, effort, and steadiness assuming it is the one and only assignment in your life. Then, when God speaks of the next thing, be willing to move on. But wait on him and don’t try to leave early. If youth pastors everywhere can champion longevity, I think the Vineyard influence towards teens lives will be greater in the decades to come than it has ever been!