My cell rang. “David Olshine?” asked a voice who identified herself as Laura. “I hear your group helps churches find youth ministry workers’ jobs?”
I said yes and asked how we could help.
“Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave, nor am I sure how long I can stay either.”
“Oh,” I replied. “How long have you been at your church?
I had to tell myself to listen politely and not just tell Laura to get over it. (I’m trained in counseling, after all.).
As a trainer of youth workers, I’ve lost count of the number of conversations involving the should-I-go-or-stay question. I admit my bias is toward believing that people in ministry should lean toward long tenures. Ministry is a marathon more than a sprint, and I’m afraid most aren’t wearing out their running shoes.
The Six F’s
As I have looked at my own changes of sceneries and pondered whether the grassis-always-greener syndrome is fact or fiction, I’ve developed six criteria as my benchmark for determining a youth pastor’s longevity.
Faith. Ask yourself, do I believe God has called me to this ministry? Do I trust God in my situation, especially when it’s hard? Can I rely on God with an overbearing senior pastor? A whiny parent? Do I have faith in God?
Family. A guy named Roy said to me, “My wife hates the church we’re serving and our kids are miserable at school.” Families must determine if it’s financially, emotionally, and relationally realistic to go or stay. How is my family holding up?
Fun. Eric Liddell, the great Scottish runner, said, “When I run, I feel His (God’s) pleasure.” There has to be some excitement and adventure in order to thrive in ministry. Do you enjoy your ministry, or is it too painful to hang in there? Is ministry a bummer or a blast? Am I having fun yet?
Freshness. Don’t stress over dry times, but be concerned if you find yourself unable to refuel. Constant output with little input always leads to a crash. The Apostle Paul spoke of ‘’pouring” himself out as an offering. Pouring out isn’t the problem; it’s when we lose the ability to replenish ourselves. Is my soul able to stay fresh?
Focus. What is your “sweet spot?” Are you functioning in that arena? If not, you’ll be miserable. Say yes to your “loves” in lifeâ€”family, vacations, Sabbath, exercise, friendships, your giftednessâ€”and say no to your deficiencies. C.S. Lewis said “Don’t be too easily convinced that God really wants you to do all sorts of work you needn’t do. Each must do his duty in that state of life to which God has called him.” Am I focused?
Fruitfulness. The reality of ministry is making an impact. If life transformation isn’t happening, then some hard questions need to be addressed. If you’re making a difference, there will be a sense of joy and purpose. Is my ministry bearing fruit?
Set Your Standard
I’ve given you six good F’s to think about. Never leave a ministry over one bad F. I have seen many youth leaders leave over finances or fatigue only to regret it later. For years, Rhonda and I have had our own mott For us to stay long haul, we must be growing in four F’s: faith, family, fun, and fruitfulness. These have become our standard. How about you? What are yours?
May God’s Spirit along with godly and discerning friends help you discover the three or four criteria that work with you, and then you’ll know whether to stay or go.
David Olshine is Director of Youth Ministries at Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C., and the author of over 15 books, including I Wanto Talk with My Teen About Guy Stuff. He and David Burke are the founders of Youth Ministry Coaches, a coaching and consulting business (www.youthmincoaches.com).