Losing Students Without Losing Yourself

Youth Ministry in Motion Podcast Ep. 69

Show Notes

I just watched the season finale of The Walking Dead and it only confirmed that I may be the Morgan of Youth Ministry Apocalypse.

In the show, Morgan says, “First I lose people, then I lose myself.”

He simply means, “I try to protect people, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t protect everyone, change everyone, or save everyone.  When I lose one, I lose myself.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into an almost depressive like state after losing a kid from our youth ministry. I saw their potential. I wanted to go the distance with them through high school and maybe even college. But, for one reason or another

  • family leaves the church
  • kid finds another youth group
  • sin gobbles them up like zombies

It doesn’t matter the reason, it just sucks. It’s hard not to take any of it personally, but caring too much can be ultimately, unhealthy.

There is no way around this. Look how many Jesus “lost” or left him. Judas, Peter, the rich young ruler, nine of the ten lepers, the rest of the disciples, and a bunch of no names who said they’d follow Jesus but wouldn’t because they couldn’t let go of whatever was holding them back.

That is not to say that a kids or family is leaving Jesus just because they leave our church or  youth ministry. That’s just arrogant thinking.

We’re all going to lose student, for various reasons. If you have a small youth group this is even harder because you feel like you’re losing a part of yourself and you feel hope draining away.

I have run the gambit of emotions from sadness, to depression, to anger, it feels very much like the death process which denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial – This cant be happening. I prayed. I invested.

Anger– God, this is your fault! Church, this is hour fault!

Bargaining – God, if you let them stay/bring them back I will…

Depression – This sucks. Ministry sucks. Teenagers suck. I suck.

Acceptance – I don’t know why this is happening, but it is. God, help me.

I have made a lot of kids leavings about me. Others have made it about me (It was your fault) and sometimes it was my fault. A bad decision or a bad attitude could have contributed to it. I’ve never gotten over the this process even after 30 years, but I have managed to put things in perspective so I can keep on moving forward.

These aren’t my kids

These are God’s kids. They are on loan to me for as long as He see fit. Yes, I have still have to do my best, but think there’s a providence in comings and goings. They are with me for a season, to do a work and then they are off.

They must grow

Students must grow. If I can’t help them get to where they need to be spiritually, relationally, etc. they must move on so they can. A few times I’ve asked students to share, with the rest of the youth,  why the were moving on. I thought this was healthy and gave the both the student and the group closure.

I have to grow 

I have to grow. I can’t be so dependent on a student that I forget the Lord. I’m not saying God purposely takes a kid out of my group to make me grow, but if it’s an idolatrous situation, God has no problem doing that. Most of the time though, when a kid leaves, for any reason, there is some reflection, prayer, and growth taking place in my life. Growth is a natural result of loss.

The ministry must change 

Every kid who leaves, leaves a whole. Sometimes a kid who leaves had an important role as a leader, tech person, etc. and, if you’re a small youth group,this is not an easy fix to replace. You are left hanging. So, you must either invest in another student and raise the up, if they have the inclination, or you must change the way you do things and sometimes it’s both.

This isn’t about me

In end, I have to say, this isn’t about me. Yes, I said above that sometimes it is, but most of the time, it is not. There are bigger things at play. God is moving, shifting, planting, and uprooting so He can accomplish His will.

To make it about me is super selfish, yet that is what I do. I work through my process and eventually come to my senses (like the prodigal son) and go home to my Father to heal up and get ready to start again.

The danger of all emotional attachments is that you’ll get hurt in the end. Ministry is often like that. Life is often like that. Jesus certainly felt it. Morgan’s choice, at the end of the episode was to leave, to walk away, to choose to be alone because losing people is just too hard. I feel you Morgan. I feel you.

But if I could tell Morgan anything I ‘d quote Alfred Lord Tennyson,

“It is better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all.”

We all  lose people, and yes, get lost in the process, sometimes, But don’t quit caring and don’t quit loving kids. Love is worth the hurt and, in the end, the only things that makes life worth living.

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Bless The Leavers

We had a great night at youth last night. We have amazing students. One of these amazing students asked if she could talk to me. This young lady wanted to tell me she was leaving our group.  She described her situation, her parents attend a church plant and God was leading her to help with a new youth ministry. What filled my heart with joy was the way she told me. First, she cared enough to tell me she was leaving at all  and second It was her gentle spirit with which she told me. She must ha known I was fragile. As youth pastors we do not always get the privilege to hear a young person tell us they are leaving, or why, they just leave. How should we handle it?

We have choices when a kid tells us they are leaving.

1. Get angry. This does nothing for them or us

2. Try to convince them to stay. If they are leaving because of conflict or connecting problems, we can work with that. But don’t beg, it’s unbecoming,

3. Bless them. This is the route I have learned to do.

How do you bless them?

Thank them for their time and talent they invested in your group while they were there. If you can, ask them to come to one more meeting and bless them publicly; let the group pray for their journey Bless the leavers and I believe, God will bless you.

“You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.” Duet. 28:6 NIV