last week at one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts, we were having a conversation about longevity in ministry (in other words, staying at one church for a long time). various peeps were sharing great thoughts on the benefits and challenges. in our little cohort of 10 people (plus me), one has been at his church for 15 years, one was at his last church for 14 years, and one has been at her church for 11 years. so we had a few who knew what they were talking about.
again, we’re not just talking about being a ‘youth ministry veteran’ who has been a 6 different churches for 4 years each. we’re talking about staying put — one church, many years.
i made some notes to myself, which i’ll call Four Mindsets Necessary for Youth Ministry Longevity (a.k.a. staying put)
1. the grass is usually not greener over there. sure, the other church looks bitchin’. seems like it would be an amazing place to become the uber-youth pastor, right? nah, probably not. in fact, you know how grass gets really green where a dog pees, then eventually kinda burns out because of the nitrogen? yeah, well — that other place might just look greener at the moment, because, well… (i’ll let you finish that on your own).
related to #1…
2. don’t compare what you know about your context to what you assume about another. this mindset is a rif on some advice i heard tic long (and others, maybe yaconelli?) give over the years, when talking about how to think about the amazing speakers at events: ‘don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you assume about that speaker.’ same thing is true about church and ministry contexts. you know the dirt on your current place. you know that sweet looking old dude is actually trying to make your life a living hell. you know the senior pastor, who seems so approachable and personable actually struggles like crazy to engage at a human level. then, you see that other church, and you make assumptions, sometimes through rosey glasses (glasses, btw, that are provided to you free of charge by that church who wants you to see them in that rosey hue).
3. tension is a great opportunity for growth, if you have the humility to flex and be wrong. marriages reach what has commonly been called the 7 year itch. the honeymoon is long gone, and things have settled into a rut of sameness. i think youth workers hit a 3 or 4 year itch with churches:
- year one = wow, you really like me!
- year two = yeah, let’s stir the pot and change some things!
- year three = yes, things are starting to click!
- year four = i’m out of ideas, and you people kinda suck.
but… if you want personal growth; well, then, staying is the best option. sure, there are times to leave. but you’ll likely experience more growth by staying — even though there’s tension and things aren’t rosey — than if you bolt.
4. you’ll need a localized vision and appreciation for the unique ministry opportunities and potential of your specific community and church. if your vision is vanilla — “i want to be big,” or “i want to have a national presence,” or “i want churches on the other side of the country to be like us” — you’re often forced to cater to the lowest common denominator. like, what if you end up creating and leading the MOST AMAZING MINISTRY EVER for redneck baptist teenagers in nacogdoches, texas? in order to make it translate or transfer to being the MOST AMAZING MINISTRY EVER for that african american catholic youth ministry in minneapolis, well, you’re gonna to have to shave off a good dose of the uniqueness. you’re going to have to vanilla-ize it. bleh. youth workers who stay at the the same church for a long time invent their own flavors that have very little to do with vanilla.
other thoughts? i’m particularly interested in hearing from you if you’ve stayed at one church for more than 10 years.