Have you ever wondered why a church would hire you? If you have served in a paid capacity in the church, you may have felt this way at some point. I can say that on more than one occasion I have asked this same question. I thought about the interview process and where I might’ve gone wrong. How could I have prevented myself from being in this same situation again and again? When I interviewed at my current church, there were several specific things I talked about indepth during the interview process. These were very important to me, even to the point of saying no to my current position.
I wanted to serve in a church where I could use my strengths and gifts. I even turned in two strength and gift assessments to give the Staff Parish Relations Committee some insight to who I am. I felt I wanted the committee members to have information about me that would help them make a good decision about hiring me. I had served in previous churches where I never used any of my strengths after the first three to six months. I knew I needed to be using my gifts in order to be a good youth pastor. About three months into my current position, it became obvious to me that no one read any of my gifts and strength assessments. I kept thinking that if I had been interviewing myself, I never would have hired me. Now, I am 15 months into my current position, unhappy, not using my gifts, and feel it is time to move on.
I have come to realize that so many churches are looking for someone who can fix their youth ministry. My number one gift is problem solving. I am a fixer through and through, but I cannot fix all the issues in my current youth ministry. Our first Sunday night youth meeting my wife, all the youth and I were present, but no parents, church leader or pastor came to do so much as introduce us. It was absolutely the most awkward time I ever have experienced. I knew then I was in trouble. My church, similar to so many churches, focused on whom instead of what. I’ve learned you never can ignore the current reality of any ministry. You can like what I say during the interview, and can say, “We need him”; but you never can ignore the reality of what is. I was asked about what type of youth ministry model I like to follow, and I replied “Sustainable youth ministry.” In a church where everything dies after some one leaves, that sounds pretty good. The problem is that nothing in the current ministry is sustainable. This was the second most important item on my interview list. We all know oil and water do not mix!
I honestly can say I have floundered for 15 months. I never have been able to get anything going the way I have in the past. It’s been a tough and humbling 15 months to say the least! I have had conversations with four different churches during past six weeks, and I still see churches making the same mistake repeatedly. A church asked me what would be my vision for its youth ministry. That’s a pretty hard question to answer. If we are honest with ourselves, how do we know what the vision should be? If we never have been to the church and we do not know a soul, then how do we know what the vision should be? Your youth ministry can’t resemble a puzzle poured out on a table with missing pieces. It’s purposely hiring someone to fail, and that is wrong. No secular company would purposely hire someone to fail, but churches will turn blind eyes in a heartbeat! If I have learned anything about serving as a youth pastor, it’s that the senior pastor and people of the church have to set the vision for the people. The youth pastor does not have the clout to set the vision—that is, if we are truly honest with ourselves. If your youth ministry resembles a puzzle dumped out with missing pieces, then it may not be the right time to hire someone.
I get so aggravated when I go to job boards and I read “self-starter, develop a team of volunteers, develop a program” etc. A church has to get its youth ministry organized before making its next hire. The church needs to develop a core of volunteers to help run the ministry. I’m not talking about one or two who will quit when the new youth pastor arrives. Get a team of five to six (or more if your church is larger) and begin developing a foundation for the youth program. Get all youth parents involved and ready to go before you hire. Have a foundation that is already working and committed to having a successful youth ministry.
Take the time with your team of youth volunteers and parents to sit down and evaluate the current ministry. Unfortunately, this could mean throwing out what your ministry currently is doing and starting again. I can tell you my current ministry is in dire need of starting over from scratch. Sometimes events have accomplished their goals and it’s time to move on. What baffles me the most is when churches hire someone to fix their youth ministry, yet they continue doing the things that have hurt the ministry. I am amazed that churches will ride a sinking ship (event, retreat) until the ministry has tanked. Sometimes change is inevitable; but more important, youth ministry constantly is evolving and so do viable youth ministries.
Let your volunteers and parents develop a vision and strategy for the youth ministry. This will encourage them to take some ownership in the youth ministry. Have a game plan in place and working before you start the interview process. By following these few steps it will give you a baseline of what your church needs in a youth pastor. Churches are shooting themselves in the feet by not having a game plan in place. You have to develop a strategy that will allow your next hire to be successful. Youth ministry is already difficult enough, and no one deserves to have the deck stacked against him or her. If you consistently stack the deck, the ministry eventually will fail.
Set up your next hire for success and not failure. I honestly can say my wife and I gave up a lot to serve in our current church. We gave up our own home. My wife gave up 13 years of retirement and benefits at her teaching job. We gave up friends. We moved away from family. Knowing what I know now, I would have passed on my current ministry opportunity. I had a semester of seminary that I needed to finish. I had a good part-time job; financially, we were better off where we were. When a church hires someone, that person is giving up something to be there. A church has a responsibility to ensure that its paid staff is not set up for failure. If the ministry is set up to fail and is failing, then it probably will fail no matter who it hires. There are acceptations; but more times than not, it will fail. My current church also would be better off by hiring someone different. If it had spent some time developing a foundation they would have known what they needed in a youth pastor. Too often, churches hire based on problems or short fallings of the previous youth pastor. Hiring based on problems often leads to bigger problems. A church needs to hire based on its current ministry strategy, not what it would like its ministry to become. The problem is that people in the hiring process are not involved in the youth ministry sometimes. They make hiring decisions based on personality rather than the needs of the ministry. That’s why developing a youth ministry before you hire is very important.
The students who attend our churches deserve better. Someone who is set up to fail never will do the job of ministering to youth that a successful youth pastor will do. My greatest task simply is to survive in hopes of one day creating a viable healthy youth ministry. Ministry is not easy and at times can be very tough. If any minister is just trying to survive, he or she never will live up to his or her potential. The youth in our churches need and deserve a successful youth pastor. With all the recent studies from Barna and books for Kenda Creasy Dean and others, this alone should give any church enough reason to set up its staff to succeed. We have too many youth leaving the church to have youth pastors serving in churches where their goal is to survive the week. Our youth need people who will be fully present ministering and loving them.
I’m a big race fan, and I love motorsports and horsepower! I watched a special on Speed TV about Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports. They brought in old drivers and talked about the early days and where they are now. One of the retired drivers Terry Labonte said something interesting: Labonte said: “You never hear anyone talk bad about anyone who works here.” Rick Hendrick replied with something very profound: “If a company does not care about its people, the people will not care about the company.”
As someone serving on staff in a church, I want to know the church truly cares about me and my family. I have a wife and a 4-month-old son, and I promise you now more than ever I want to know a church cares for my needs. I want to know a church wants me to be successful. I want to know that a church is going to make sure I can provide for my family. I want to know a church wants me to grow as a minister.
Our custodian moved on a few months ago after 12 years of service to our church. He had only one raise in 12 years. Do you think he did a good job taking care of our church? I believe people will stay in positions longer if they are valued. Last year was the first time I had not received a Christmas bonus from a church where I had served. Last year was also the first time I had not received a cost-of-living increase. Last year was the first time I did not receive any Christmas card or gift from a youth/ family in a church. Church staffers, as with anyone working a secular job, want to know they are valued. If I left my church tomorrow, I doubt I would be missed.
Sometimes, it’s inevitable that ministers and staff need to move on. There is nothing more draining than serving a ministry where you simply exist. The minister suffers and the ministry suffers. Sometimes the church and youth pastor needs to have an amicable healthy split. This will be better for everyone involved. The hiring process can take two or three months. It can be very hard for a minister to find employment within a couple weeks. The church should sustain that minister for two to three months by allowing a severance package. Unfortunately, this would mean a church would have to admit itmade a mistake, and this does not happen very often.
To the hiring church, please get a game plan and strategy together before you hire. Make sure your next hire will be successful. If your church cannot do this, there are several youth ministry consulting groups with fantastic track records. Our youth are too important and deserve something better than a survivalist youth pastor. Our youth need a youth pastor who will thrive and be successful.
There are some exceptions to the rule. I have a friend who serves a church about 30 minutes north of my current church. The youth ministry had gone through some major struggles. Some very capable youth ministers had failed. I know one minister who now serves another church and is doing very well. My friend came along at a time when everyone was fed up with the youth program. It was so bad that everyone was willing to start with a clean slate and start again. The youth realized that what they were doing was in a serious need of overhauling. It has taken my friend four years to get the ministry turned around. My friend is an extremely gifted youth pastor, and I don’t want to take anything away from his talents and gifts. He is what I call the exception to the rule! He was able to get what so many of us want when we start a new church. He got a fresh start that gave him the opportunity to develop a strong ministry. If his church had developed a game plan and strategy with volunteers in place, I wonder how much stronger this youth ministry would be today?