Chris Folmsbee wrote a great article for Beliefnet.com titled “Youth Minsiter Departing” that you can read in its entirety here. He asks the question WHY are there so many people leaving Youth Ministry? After almost 20 years of full time ministry, I have witnessed many, many, many guys who are no longer in youth ministry and many who aren’t in ministry at all. This saddens me, it hurts my soul, it makes me lonely, it make me nervous for the church. So I share Chris’ curiosity as to “Why” are these people leaving?
He asserts the following reasons:
1. THEOLOGY: He says there is a departure between many youth workers and their senior ministers/supervising boards. I experienced a lot of that, but for me, the transformation that I was able to witness from the “Front Row” of youth ministry negated that frustration in my experience. I could disagree with my superiors as long as I was given the freedom to “DO MINISTRY” from my theological perspective.
2. METHODOLOGY--He asserts that more and more are leaning toward missional models of ministry in a world that is still predominantly attractional in its approach. I agree with Mark Oestreicher’s (and many others*) assertion in his recent book , Youth Ministry 3.0, that what has worked in youth ministry for the past 20 years no longer works. This is what we look at a LOT in our Youth Ministry program here at Lipscomb. The goofy games, lock-ins, Sunday night devos, etc. of the past 20 years just seem to miss the mark with post modern adolescents who have been abandoned. But what? Missional ministry seems to hit a current that runs deep within the soul and seems to match what we see in the early church, however, we don’t know yet what that looks like in the organization of the church.
3. LEADERSHIP–Folmsbee asserts that many YMs are leaving for greater leadership challenges than are afforded in YM. My assertion is that while many YMs WANT a larger leadership, they haven’t fully developed their own ability to recruit, train, nurture and manage the followers and the volunteers they do (or CAN) have in their current situations. They see the influence that a Sr. Minister has and desire that kind of power for themselves, but don’t realize the influence they can possess not only with Junior High or High School students, but their parents, potential volunteers, the senior saints in their church, etc.
4&5. EXPECTATIONS & CALLING--I agree with Folmsbee here in that our modern YMs are Overworked, Under-resourced. too many YMs have far too much on their calendar and are hounded to have even more put on the calendar. Too many churches don’t allow for comp time after weekend retreats, week long camps, two weeks camps to recharged and reconnect with their own soul and family. Or too many churches give a YM a difficult time when they actually take the vacation time they are given as a benefit.
6. CALLING--Perhaps our colleges and seminaries need to do a far better job of trying to convince people to NOT go into ministry. However, the “business” of education causes a conflict of interest. Here at Lipscomb, we work hard at challenging our Bible majors to really reflect and listen to whether or not they are going in to ministry for the limelight or are they being obedient to a true Call that God has been working in their lives. I do think far too many go into ministry for misplaced motivation (to salve the ego, for the limelight, to be a savior, etc.)
Granted, there is a time for a change in many people’s lives. You can see vocation after vocation where people leave and do something else after trying their wings or truly giving it their all for several years. But there is something for longevity as well.
My hope is that the churches and her colleges and universities can do a better job of helping to prepare men and women for ministry and setting (or recalibrating) realistic expectations for those we currently have in ministry so that we will retain those who God has called to serve.
*Phyllis Tickle’s latest and most excellent book, The Great Emergence, points to the fact that the church universal is at the very beginning of a tremendous shift, the kind of shift that caused the Great Schism, The Reformation, the Council of Nicea to name just a few)
Chap Clark also asserts much of the same kind of needed shifts in his writings of the past 10 years, Hurt, Deep Justice in a Broken World, and Deep Ministry in a Shallow World where he details youth ministry’s need to address the more transcendent needs of the adolescent soul.