I have previously shared why I think so many Youth Pastors leave around the 2-3 year mark and why I think you should stay in your current youth ministry position. A recent conversation with a friend in ministry reminded me of a pattern of benchmarks that seem to occur in youth ministry. Knowing these and recognizing them can help us be more effective and stay the course for the longer haul. Here are six common benchmarks I have seen in youth ministry over the last 15+ years:
Things are great! You are excited about the ministry and all the potential you see. You are busy learning names of students, leaders, parents, and influential people. Others are excited you are there as well and all the new ideas you have. To quote the great Nacho Libre, your “life is good! Real Good!”
You are beginning to get a handle on who is who and what is what. You are ready to make some “bigger” changes and feel like you have a good understanding on what needs to be done. You are taking those dreams of potential and starting to move to making it happen. You have begun to hear more often about the last youth pastor and are occasionally compared to him. Most of the “mess” you see with the ministry is still in your mind leftover from what was there when you got there. You are ready to put your head down and really push forward in the ministry.
This is easily one of the toughest benchmarks. The excitement that you arrived with has faded. You know the students fairly well and the parents who complain often even better. You are receiving more criticism over some things than you thought were even possible. You feel as if no one is really getting the “vision” you are trying to cast. You are running into quite a bit of resistance at times in the new things you are wanting to do. Relationships are beginning to get difficult. You are emotionally drained, often feel discouraged, spiritually stagnant, and are ready to give up. The hundreds of small things and friction points feel like tiny paper cuts between your fingers…dipped in saltwater…and not at the beach for vacation (what is a vacation?). This is not the youth ministry you were hoping for. You wonder if “they” will every get it and if “you” are really able to do this. You begin (if you haven’t already) to doubt your call into ministry (and what you were thinking wanting to hang out with teens all the time). You are feeling extremely lonely. If you are married the pressure of this time is likely taking a toll of your family. You are ready to quit move on. Longing for the excitement you once had and the desire for a fresh start, every Youth Pastor job posting seems like a great option and a great fit. You begin to feel “the Lord leading you” away from here or to somewhere else. (IF THIS IS YOU NOW, DON’T GIVE UP! IT GETS BETTER!)
If you have not given up and have stayed, you are finally feeling momentum beginning to swing in your direction. You can begin to see things taking shape. You are building solid relationships with parents, your youth workers, and your students. Parents are beginning to genuinely trust you. Students no longer worry about you leaving them like the last 5 Youth Pastors that preceded you. You are no longer being compared to the previous Youth Pastor and the students you have in your ministry see you as their Youth Pastor. The ministry is not without its challenges, but you now have the confidence of those you serve, those you serve with, and those you serve under to be able to handle the things that come your way. You are finally beginning to get excited about youth ministry again.
You have what you have made. You are legitimately seen as their Youth Pastor. You have been able to set in place the things you felt were needed for the success of the ministry. You can really move forward with the vision God has given you for this ministry. Difficult days still come and it is by no means easy, but you are a far cry from where you found yourself 2 and half years ago.
This is without a doubt the sweetest of the benchmarks in your ministry. You have watched a class of students come all the way through your ministry. You have lived life with them and they have lived life with you. You can finally see some of the fruits of your labor. You have systems and people in place to help the ministry be successful. You have been able to establish strong relationships in the community and schools. Your pool of influence has and is continuing to expand. Every class from this point that graduates out will come through your ministry in its entirety. You are not dependent on only being fueled by an excitement for your ministry any longer, but a true joy for what God allows you to do. From here the sky is the limit.
Now to be fair, this is not a cookie cutter pattern. There are things that can affect this. Change in senior pastor, supervising pastor, job description, overall church health can all derail this time line. Even with those things however, I have largely found this to be true in my ministry and most I know. I really believe that knowing and recognizing these can help us stay the course.