Youth Pastors do not leave churches, they leave Pastors.

Pastor, does that shock you? I know that many pastors want to couch a youth pastors leaving their church in religious language and claiming God’s will, etc. but the truth is, they’re leaving you.

Just like when two people break up, one person will try to let the other person down gently by saying, “It’s not you, it’s me”. I never left a church because of the students, never. I usually left because of the leadership of the pastor or lack thereof or/and the culture they were creating.

Think of all the time work and money you put into finding a youth pastor. You go through a round of interviews, set salaries, put together a portfolio of responsibilities and move someone and their family to your town to do ministry on behalf of your church in your community only to lose them them to a church down the street after three years. The process starts again.

Why? Young youth works want something. They want to know things can move forward, that new possibilities will arise, to cage a young youth worker in the status quo is an open dare for them to leave. So, how do you hold on to good youth workers?

In reading the last chapter of Jenny Blake’s book, Pivot, I picked up on a few key words and phrases that made all the difference in Jenny’s decisions to make a pivot from one job, even one with Google, to another.

Career conversations

Youth workers want to be heard. They want someone to listen to their ambitions for ministry and life and most Pastors just want them to do their job and don’t become a problem. Youth workers need career conversations.

Not every youth worker will make youth ministry a career, like I did, but I think about how many would have stayed ministering to youth longer if their experiences weren’t so jacked up. It took me four years to overcome my lack of desire to return to the church due to an awful experience.

Thankfully the Lord changed my heart and I was able to finish my career as a youth pastor on my terms.

Young men and women want to be pastored and mentored not only for the task ahead but the future ahead. Ask your youth pastor about their life goals and dreams; questions like

  • If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  • How long would you like to stay in youth ministry? (not just at this church)
  • What do you sense the Lord is doing in your life, what do you think He’s preparing you for?

These questions will give give you insight and your youth pastor the opportunity to be heard. Don’t just help your youth pastor build a successful youth ministry, help them build a successful life.

Youth Pastor’s who are not being heard will start to look elsewhere.

Career development

There are some youth workers who are happy to run the youth program as is and there are some who want to take it to places it’s never been before. The only way a youth pastor can do anything is with the permission of those who oversee them.

Youth Pastors, like all other ministers who oversee ministries, are middle management. When a youth pastor is stonewalled, blocked, and told no often enough, there’s nothing but frustration and the exit strategy begins. If you hired the most talented person you could find, why wouldn’t you let them do what they do?

Pastor, if you want someone who follows the rules and is compliant, don’t look for talent, look for a drone. Look for someone who likes rules, order, structure and fears judgement. It’s not that all talented youth workers are rebels, rule breakers and hate order but they need the freedom to be who God created them to be within the context of the church. Why hire a talented youth worker and then try to form them into the shape you want them? That is a recipe for a short term stay.

Instead, work with your youth pastor to help them develop not conform. Figure out ways to help that youth worker see long term and what it will take to succeed in the church. Youth Pastor’s, especially young ones, need help in developing their career as well as their calling.

Stretch Projects

A Youth Pastor may be very good youth but that does not mean that’s all they’re good at. This is where you can help them develop and benefit from other talents they may have while giving them something challenging that will help them grow.

High net growth individuals want to feel challenged, collaborative, and like they are able to make a positive impact within their organizations and outside them – Jenny Blake, Pivot

What does challenging, collaborative and impact look like in the form of stretch programs? Why not have your youth pastor be a part of team that

  • works on the Sunday morning service planning
  • re-work the guest relations of the church
  • let them lead a staff meeting on a particular subject they’re good at
  • develop an off campus outreach/onramp strategy

If a youth pastor has the gifts and talents that will help the church as a whole, beyond the youth ministry, use them or lose them.

Meaningful Work

Most youth pastor’s don’t want your job. The don’t want to run everything bust they do want to feel like it’s ok to put their finger prints on how the church does what it does. Sadly, mot pastors slap their hands away because of insecurity and the “mine, mine, mine” mentality. If you want to keep talented youth workers you have to make their work mean something beyond a paycheck.

If youth worker feel like they or the youth ministry is a low priority in church, they will look elsewhere. I’m not saying the youth ministry should be the golden child of the church or held above other ministries, but each of these ministries, along with their leaders, need a chance to shine and not just from the stage.

You may say, “But I let my youth pastor speak once a year on youth Sunday”, that’s not enough to make a youth worker feel valued or that their work is meaningful. You have to work meaning and purpose into their lives throughout the year, like yeast, so that they will rise.

Some things you can randomly do to help this along

  • pass on something you normally do to them
  • randomly give them shout outs on social
  • do a joint video talking about youth issues and putting them on your FB page or website.
  • Send them a text thanking them for no reason
  • Take them along on high profile events you have scheduled

Youth workers want to do meaningful work, but that want to know that their work means something to you as well.

When you hire a youth pastor and plugged that whole you needed plugged, that is not the end but the beginning. You have a responsibility the young man or young lady you have hired to help them be successful. It’s not time to run back to your office and put your feet on your desk and say “my job is done.”

I feel for you Pastor, I do. Your job is hard and I’m not trying to make it harder. I am trying to tell you that if you are tired of playing youth ministry roulette, it’s going require some extra time and effort to keep the talented youth worker you just hired. Your students are worth it.

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