Discontented Youth Minister, Don’t Leave Too Soon
By Seth Stewart
Imagine, after working at the same church for more than eight years and leading missions trips internationally for two, you, a 30-year-old youth minister hosts a parent’s meeting for an upcoming trip to St. Louis. One of the first questions you’re asked is, “…but are any adults going on the trip?” It’s a small slight but a devastating one. It’s as if your track record, your work experience, your maturity all just dissolve under the title “Youth Pastor.”
Perhaps you have lost track of the number of times you’ve heard something like “you’re just the youth pastor” or “don’t you just handle the youth?” As youth ministers, it’s easy to feel like we’re secondary at best and not needed at worst. As we get more skilled at our job, it can feel like our potential is atrophying. We feel our leadership, preaching, organizational and strategic gifts weakening, going unnoticed, unappreciated, and worse underdeveloped.
There are bright spots. Student ministry can be pastorally challenging and rewarding. Watching the gospel-penny drop is thrilling. And convincing teens that Jesus’ death and resurrection saved and is saving them requires pastoral innovation and faith. At the same time, it’s organizationally simple. You run a group of volunteers who mostly lead small groups, who mostly stay invested for a long time. In self-contempt, it’s easy to say “anyone can do my job.” Bitter we wonder, “does anyone see me? And “I am just the youth pastor.” Self-doubting we ask, “what am I even doing here?” Bored we ask, “am I ready to leave?”
Perhaps God is nudging you in a new direction—if so, you may want to check out this recent series from Rooted. But whether or not the Lord may be willing you to a different context, it is certainly true He calls you to be holier in your current one. “This is the will of the Lord, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
So let me encourage you: Don’t leave too soon. If you leave your current ministry position before it’s time, you run the risk of short-circuiting the development you so badly want. It can take time for the novelty of a new job to wear off—but once it’s gone, that same discontent will creep in and you’ll have to deal with it all over again.
The average tenure of a youth pastor in any given church is less than two years. I wonder if we’re just trying to outrun our discontent, too immature to crucify it. Like Jonah sailing away from God’s call to Nineveh, we board other ministry opportunities, running from God’s call to be sanctified.
The Slower Boat to Nineveh…
Jonah serves as both a sign and a warning to youth pastors. His story is a warning because God’s hand will always catch up with you. You will not outrun his desire to make you holy. He will complete the good work He started, so repent and submit to his will and timing. And while you wait, Jonah is a sign that second-ness and silos in the bellies of your organization will lead to new life. The darkness of discontent and disconnection produce lights of patience, submission, humility, gratitude, and Christlikeness. If you let Him, the Holy Spirit will make you a better leader faster through discontent than you could make yourself through an impressive résumé.
The sign of Jonah in Matthew 12 is the only sign Jesus promised to hard-hearted, unholy, career-driven Pharisees. (Jonah spent three days in the fish. Jesus will spend three days in the earth.) And it’s the only sign He will give to youth-pastors more eager to leave than to be made holy. Wanting a flash-in-the-pan miracle and proof that God’s coming Kingdom meant political promotion the Pharisees refused to humble themselves to a greater miracle and message– Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and our participation in it.
Practically, that means you need to value holiness over advancement. You need to pray for sanctification more than you pray for new opportunities. And realistically, that will take time. Heart work like this is chipping away at marble. Personally, the more I fought for contentment the more I understood what Jesus meant when He said some demons only leave through prayer (Mark 9:29). So I surrounded myself with peers and elders who I trusted to fight with me for my holiness and began regularly spending prolonged times in prayer with God.
Let Jonah remind you that God often ordains periods of darkness before He releases us. The darkness, the discontent, the disconnection are not reasons to run, they’re reasons to rejoice. If you let Him, God will do in you what he first did to Jonah and then did for Jesus. Jesus “learned obedience through what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8), if you’re in Christ, you will too.
Look to Jonah and Jesus and ask yourself: Do you trust that if you give up your career timeline you will find it? Is looking more like Jesus enough of a reward for you? Will you consider the real experienced knowledge of your sonship and daughtership better than new titles, at healthier churches, with bigger paychecks? If your answer is yes, then lay aside every weight that slows you down and press on towards the goal and prize of all that God is for us in Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
Tired, bored, discontented, siloed youth pastor, God has not forgotten you, He sees you, He sees your gifts, your potential and like Jesus and Jonah He’s raising you up. Not necessarily to ministry success or organizational authority but to new and better life in Him.
And it’s worth it!