18 months and I’m out! Huh?!?

The statistics about how long youth ministers stay in one place are not good. 18 months in some publications, as little as 9 months in other publications describes the tenure of youth ministers these days. What causes this early departure, what damage is done, and how can this change is a three part blog series that I will write on starting today.

Let us examine why youth ministers leave churches so hastily.

I will be comparing this to my tenure and stays at the places I have served. I have been in two churches as a full-time youth pastor (I did have a 1 year internship, and and year and half as a part-time youth minister while in college.) I served 5 and a half years at Pecan Grove Baptist Church in Richmond, TX and currently have been at Stetson Baptist Church in DeLand, FL for 7 years as of April 1, 2010. I am the exception, unfortunately. I certainly have not been in my church as long as some youth ministers but I have been here longer then any youth minister at Stetson Baptist that anyone can remember.

So why do youth ministers jet after such a short period of time.
1) They can’t get along with/agree with the senior pastor. Many Youth Minister’s either move to a church that they feel will be a great fit for their family or have a pastor leave that they liked only to have a pastor move in they don’t like. In either case many youth minister’s struggle with the authority of the pastor over them. If you have ever been to a youth minister’s meeting you will usually hear a good deal of grumbling about senior pastor’s from those in attendance. One reason this happens is usually youth minister’s have great ideas about how the church should run and thus have trouble when the senior pastor has different ideas. The youth minister feels powerless to affect change and thus wants to move on. Another reason is that youth ministers are leaders and thus want to lead. They have difficulty leading from the second chair.
2) The youth minister falls out of favor with the students. Youth ministers are human and thus have human inconsistencies. Youth are fickle. They like a band or movie star today and call them dorks and stupid the next. The youth minister has the challenge of trying to be cool enough for the kids, responsible enough for the church, and friendly enough to everyone. I know from my year’s in youth ministry, I am not going to jive with every student that walks in the door. I have to build workers into the ministry who will jive with those students I can’t reach. Youth ministers want to see their group swell in numbers and sometimes that is hard if another ministry in town is doing something out of this world. In my 7 years here at Stetson, a lot of different churches have been the “it” church to be at. Some youth ministers are a bit narcissistic and want everybody to love them. They leave for the next church because not everyone is infatuated with them.
3) The pay is tough to raise a family on. Over the years the pay for youth ministers has gotten better but it is often tough to raise a family on the third or fourth or fifth paid position at a church.
4) The hours are brutal. Many youth ministers want better hours. They get tired of the late nights and the long weekends.
5) The youth minister wants to feel appreciated. Many youth ministers feel that they are not appreciated. They are not thanked enough by their students because youth aren’t to that level of appreciation yet and are growing up in an entitled generation. The youth minister may get a few thanks from the church or a senior pastor, but has to balance that with all the criticism over what went wrong at the last youth trip or why there aren’t more students coming to the youth group. The best criticism is when a parent says “why aren’t you reaching out to my kid?” They don’t know that every week you visit the school you talk to their students but because the parent doesn’t see it they don’t think you do it. Of course the parent is reaching their kid either but the youth minister is supposed to reach everybody( see #2). The youth minister ultimately leaves out of hurt feelings and frustration.
6) A better opportunity comes along. Some youth ministers do get “head hunted” by bigger churches with more dynamic ministries. The opportunity is a good one and thus they do not want to pass it up. They may be in a church that is struggling financially, numerically, have non-youth oriented music, and overall dealing with conflict. They are offered a position at a church that seems to have little conflict, pays better, is growing, and has a contemporary worship setting. They decide to go and build a youth ministry there. This is the “grass is always greener” idea of moving in ministry. (pssst…it isn’t always greener!)
7) Sometimes there are practical reasons such as a job opportunity for the youth minister’s spouse. Sometimes the youth minister has a family member that is sick and thus needs to move closer to that family member.
8) Sometimes God is in the business of minister’s coming in and doing a work for a shirt time and then moving them on. Paul did this in his ministries and he did alright for himself!

I am sure there are other reasons, but these are a few that I have heard over the years. Tomorrow we will talk about some of the issues these early departures leave in their wake.