My "Youth Ministry Cycle," Re-examined
I've blogged before about something I call a “youth ministry cycle,” the time that a Youth Pastor stays with a youth ministry before moving on to another. Personally, I’ve always felt the best practice was for a youth minister (circumstances permitting) to stay with a youth ministry for at least one full cycle, i.e., long enough to see your 6th or 7th grade class graduate from high school.
I’ve held to this idea of a full youth ministry cycle since I started working with youth ministries as a volunteer my freshman year in high school. In my opinion, it’s the ideal way to not only build credibility, but it develops relational authenticity; six or seven years of shared memories creates a deep bond that lasts long after a student has passed through our ministries. When youth groups lose a youth pastor every two to three years it tends to make them feel like their youth ministers don't really care.
And so, I promised myself I would never be one of those youth ministers. I would never stay for only two to three years. I promised myself I’d be the youth minister to break the pattern and stay at my first full-time youth ministry gig for at least six years.
And here I am: a little over two years later at a new Church. I stayed for two years then moved four states away to be in a new youth ministry position.
I broke my own philosophy of a youth ministry cycle. Want to know what happened?
See, when I started at the Church as a part-time youth minister in 2010 I was a single guy. The small salary was enough to support myself and my needs (video games, frozen pizza, and Redbox; you know, the essentials). Two years later I’m married to a beautiful woman. My wife wants to attend graduate school and there were no reputable grad schools in the area. My priorities in life are God, family, and youth ministry. And so, after much prayer, I knew God was calling me to put my family above my “youth ministry cycle” philosophy.
Was this difficult? Absolutely. I felt like I was abandoning my students. Leaving them out to dry. Had I unintentionally used them as a stepping-stone to a bigger and better position? I felt like I had a lot of attention, guidance, and love still left to give.
I struggled with some really mixed feelings. But God helped me realize something: he helped me see how stupid I was acting!
John 15:5 says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
You see, God sometimes makes big changes in our lives. God transforms students. I’m a mere vessel. God is the vine. I’m just a branch. He’s in control.
Do I still believe in my youth ministry cycle? Yes.
I think longevity is a vital part to a healthy ministry ... when it can be accomplished. Do I still think it's the only way to do youth ministry? No.
Sometimes things happen and it's more important to trust God's will and His amazing power more than our own. It took a lot of time for me to make the decision to leave my first youth ministry position and the students I had come to love. I had to humble myself and my views on my youth ministry cycle and do ministry the only way it can be done - with God in control.
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