keys to longevity in youth ministry

i received this question from a youth worker yesterday:
I am speaking at a youth ministry event on Longevity in Ministry. I would love to hear back from you on what your top 10 secrets of longevity in ministry are?

here’s what i wrote in response:

in no particular order…
1. embrace humility. ask people to hold you accountable to this.
2. have intentional conversations with youth workers who have stayed in one church for 10 years or more. seek their input.
3. make a list of the reasons why longevity is valuable. pull it out and read it from time to time.
4. get over yourself. you are not god’s secret weapon or only option.
5. ruthlessly develop intimacy with jesus. only when you are deeply connected with jesus will you be able to set aside your ego and weather the temptations to move on.
6. remind yourself regularly that your calling does not come from people, but from god.
7. decide how you will measure your success. bad measures of success = a big program, lots of ego strokes, buzz, impressive numbers. good measures of success = the faith of former teenagers when they’re in their 20s or 30s (and only longevity allows you to really see that).
8. consider the cost to your church, the teenagers you serve, your family, and your own soul of constantly looking over the fence for something “better”.
9. eschew power. power corrupts your calling, and falsely inflates your sense of importance.
10. value faithfulness over influence.

oh, and #11: cultivate a life outside of youth ministry

how about an even dozen? #12: be ruthless about establishing and honoring a sustainable rhythm of silence and solitude.

what do you think? what did i miss?
and, which of these is most difficult for you?

24 thoughts on “keys to longevity in youth ministry”

  1. at the last SYMC – Duffy Robins did a workshop on “Growing old in Youth ministry without growing stale” that was excellent and I think addresses this thought.

    One of his points was – advantages to age in Youth ministry:
    – more patience
    – more trust
    – clearer vision

  2. I would add. Do not enter your church only as a youth pastor. To succeed and be long term you have to enter into the full life of the church. You need to be ready to get to know and be ready to be called upon to speak to old people once in a while. You need to know and be aware of 3-6th graders, they are coming up into your youth group. You need to cultivate relationships with young couples, because you and your spouse need friends and encouragement.

    A recent failure in longevity that I saw… the pastor stayed 3 years because he was not involved with anything but kids… not even youth parents to any degree… ERROR.

  3. A healthy church would, in my opinion, be a key factor in longevity. I know that not a single church on this planet is perfect but some are excellent environments for long term ministry and some are straight up toxic.

    I have been in a church now for 8 years and Mark’s list rang true for me. My top five would be the same as Mark’s 4,5,6,7 and 11.

    Great topic for discussion!

  4. Marko, I don’t think I would disagree with any of those. And I know you said they were in no particular order, but I want to call special attention to the one you tossed in at the end to make “an even dozen.”

    I am sad to admit that, until two weeks ago, after 25 yearsnin youth ministry, I had NEVER taken a prayer/silent/spiritual retreatmof any time. Forget making it a “rhythm”….I had never played the first note!

    I did it purely because of the example you have set, and I know how precious these times have been for you. So, after hearing you talk about silent retreats and spiritual getaways for several years, I took my own (slow learner).

    I called my time a “silent(sh) retreat” because, frankly, I was intimidated by concept of completely cutting myself off. BUT WOW, it was an incredible time.

    Thanks for your longevity, and years of faithfulness…..and for stretching all of us along the way.

  5. bakers dozen:
    13a – Tom Seward’s – do more than just youth…I always say I’m a pastor first and foremost but I have the privilege of getting to focus on youth. In other words, Pastor is my job, Youth is my specialty (that last part sounds familiar…)

    13b – Connect to the church (not just officially) – make friends, let it become (if it isn’t to begine with) the church you would attend if you weren’t a pastor and moved to the area

    and #9 becomes more and more important the longer you’re there since it becomes easier and easier to absorb power and build your own little kingdom AND it becomes more and more tempting to cling to power when you see it start to slip away or be tread upon by others…similarly, be gracious to others when they step on your toes even if you sometimes have to establish your space (yes, the youth did have that booked and therefore have a right tot he room, no, I won’t belittle you just because I have the power/position)…so tough

    in case you’re wondering, I’ve been at my church for 13 years as of last September, almost 13 1/2 now and I’m shooting for 27-63 more. 40 years as youth pastor would be amazing, being a 100 year old youth pastor would be amazingly crazy…but Moses was 120 “yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” As long as God and my church are willing, I want to be taking my my first graduating class’ grandkids (class of 2035+) to camp and on missions trips!

  6. Staff!
    – church staff – be part of the team…support them, know them, staff meeting isn’t a waste of time even if it doesn’t seem to make anything happen (it’s the family dinner principle…families that eat dinner together tend to be better even if there is never and obvious agenda or purpose)
    – youth staff – develop it…the lone ranger always rides off into the sunset an hour after the show starts

  7. Thanks Marko!

    A couple of months ago you gave me some great advice and things are going great right now. Thanks for sharing even more wisdom on this topic. The humility and accountability part is huge for me. I have a mentor that keeps me in check with this all of the time, it helps me get through conflict in an honorable way when it does arise.

    Thanks again.

  8. PBJ, I completely agree with you. I’ve been on youth lay staff since 1983, and seen pastors come and go. The ones that do the best are those that love the people they work with, and sense a greater call to that particular church, not just the youth. They also like being a part (member) of the church, which is great because kids sense it and want to become a part of the big church too, and it doesn’t feel forced when the pastor encourages kids to do that missions trip with or that service project with “the whole big church.”

  9. I wouldn’t add anything to the list. Other than to say that all of you reading this list should know that the Holy Spirit will pour out grace upon you to be obedient to this call to surrender your ministry to the Lord…if you trust Him enough to let Him.

  10. I meet once a week with a couple other local youth pastors. We vent, pray, rejoice,cry, laugh, and have lunch.

    I would say these gatherings have kept me going at times. They have held me accountable, depended on me, and loved me even through my mistakes.

    I have a life outside youth ministry (bocce ball league and improv classes) but a small group of dear friends who get student ministry because they are in student ministry yet totally disconnected from your ministry context is such a blessing!

  11. fantastic and challenging! thanks for sharing them, marko! a list like this that helps us seek longevity and make ministry more healthy for all of us, makes me hope that this should get as many hits at your “worst nativity sets” list.

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