Rant re:”Youth Ministers”

This is (kinda) none of my business, except that I am leaving names out of the story to protect the innocent, and to help the guilty avoid embarrassment.

A friend told me the other day that he had been advised that he would burn out of youth ministry, probably soon, and then was given the name of another person we all know who used to be in youth ministry and is no longer.

Now, it isn’t my place to say that this other individual didn’t actually burn out on youth ministry.  I know this person well enough, though, to tell you that this person had never intended to stay in youth ministry long.  The plan was clear: in the United Methodist Church (and perhaps others) youth ministry is perceived as

1. “starter” ministry, as though it is merely preparation (I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, over the last 20 years, when I would “start doing “real” ministry!)

2. A good way to get hired on to a bigger church, thus a higher paying gig than some seminarians can wrangle at small-town, small-church student appointments.

If you fit in either or both of these conditions, whatever happens or happened around your leaving youth ministry, you don’t get to call it burnout.

15 thoughts on “Rant re:”Youth Ministers”

  1. I hear ya, Steve. Sure, the time may come where God calls me out of youth ministry, but I have prayerfully sought to NEVER see it as a stepping stone to pastoring churches, etc. And folks just struggle to understand that (especially, as you mentioned, within the UMC context). I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked when I am going to go get “ordained” and have to take a deep breath (since I want to scream) and seek to kindly tell them that I don’t sense that call. And then you get the, “Oh…that’s nice…” response. Ugh. I also know that there is all the concern about “how to get young(er) blood in the UMC pastoral carousel”, but some of us (aka me) may feel called to ministry, but not to that system…plus I am not sure my gifts would be best used in a senior pastoral context, expecially as that position is viewed/used in many churches (where you are expected to be gifted in EVERYTHING…I don’t think that’s fair…and I’ve seen too many pastors flame out and I’m not subjecting my family to that…sorry if that’s selfish…).

    So long story short, I agree that burning out in youth ministry has little to do with the true motive of many…If I get burned out, I sure hope it is a true call to another arena or a call for renewal/sabbatical so I can get back in the game refreshed and passionate…

    • So, perhaps you’re saying the burnout isn’t so much of being in youth ministry as the way youth ministry is sometimes structured within the larger context of the church?

  2. I’ve noticed over the years that Baptist youth pastors tend to stay longer at their churches than Methodist counterparts. I’ve also run into more than one middle-aged Baptist yp. The easy observation is that Baptists tithe more than Methodists and therefore can pay their staff more, including youth directors. Any other reasons you can think of?

    • I think there are healthy signs in many denominations that youth ministry is gaining an understanding as of value as a particular niche ministry more than as something for ministers to do while they are still young.

      Geez – I’m out of seminary 20 years, and don’t “hang” with the kids the way I used to, but still enjoy the ways that I am able to build relationships and disciple young people today.

  3. in response to Mark’s observation, i would also add that (if we are speaking in stereotypes/our experience) many Baptist youth ministers are the male breadwinner in their families and are often treated as respected associate pastors at the church. their livelihood depends on that salary and the church so they will stay there longer.

    • I’ve been under the impression your move on to Teaching Pastor was a growth in the direction your ministry had been heading over the years, not than a matter of burnout, so, nope – you’re not the model. 😉

  4. What’s wrong with stepping stones? They can be mighty useful if you’re trying to cross a river without drowning.

    Now if your intention is, “Youth ministry is ONLY a stepping stone, only a way to be noticed and mark time until I get something bigger and better, and these people I’m with now don’t matter at all,” then I’d see a problem.

    Youth ministry can be the growing edge of local church ministry. You get to work with people who are still willing to ask questions, who aren’t completely jaded, burned out, or set in their ways. I think it can be a great advantage to enter whole-church-pastoral ministry from a base of youth ministry experience.

    But then I also think some people are called and gifted to do youth ministry through their whole working life, and lament that our churches either won’t or can’t pay enough to make it possible for many to do it.

    • Ok, Richard, make me nuance, as usual. I’m not completely opposed to stepping stones. I am opposed to an attitude or assumption that youth ministry is easier or less important, and thus a good place for people who aren’t ready for other or “real” ministries.

      Churches that understand youth ministry as adolescent baby-sitting will not likely listen to a 22 year old try to explain to them that youth ministry can be, and should be, more than this – especially if we really want to makes disciples for the transformation of the world.

  5. In West Ohio, it’s rare for someone to be appointed as the Youth Minister (Except maybe fresh out of seminary) and rarer still to serve as the Youth Minister and be reappointed elsewhere as the Youth Minister. I can think of only one person.
    So the question becomes is Youth Ministry that much more difficult than “regular” ministry, or is the burn out more a result of (typically) Lower pay and havign your calling treated as a bit beneath the real ministry?

  6. As a youth minister I have noticed that in my setting I am charged to do what a “regular minister” does (preach, teach, visit, evangelism, stewardship campaigns, meetings, weddings, funerals, sacrament, worship, etc.) for the larger church. At the same time I am also charged with duties as the youth minister. So not only am I doing the “regular” ministries, but I am also doing additional youth stuff (missions, fundraising, administration, volunteer coordinator, “fun time happy guy”, ‘relate’ to a generation that is not my own, research culture, stay on the technological edge, etc.).

    For me money is not the issue. I am in ministry, regardless of the type. For me the issue surrounding burnout from youth ministry is because I find I am asked to pull more than my fair share of weight.

    I am told the youth are the future which to me has translated to “they matter but will matter more in the future.”

    For instance we are making the youth floor over and of the 12 people on the trustees committee (the group responsible for the building) only 3 had been on the youth floor. Are you kidding me. Youth and by extension youth ministers are only important in word because the value added from the youth is seen as sub par or at least “yet to come.”

  7. I wish that more churches took youth ministry seriously. I pray that one day that happens. As a minister on the deacon track for youth ministry, I find myself soon to be unemployed (after our Annual Conference) because the church I was serving was more concerned with lowering the budget than with providing ministry to youth and young adults. Sometimes being forced out of youth ministry is not of our own desires or even of God’s but of what man does instead.

  8. I did burn out of youth ministry…not because of the youth but because of one or two (or 4 or 5) parents in the church who just were a whippin’!

    I also viewed it as a stepping stone to being in adult ministry.

    All of that said: How wrong I was. In all three of my pastoral appointments over nearly 13 years of ministry, guess what I’ve done again & again? YOUTH MINISTRY!

  9. I think burnout in any ministry comes from a lack of separation of the costs of doing ministry from the benefits. There is crap to deal with in any organization that pays you to follow your calling.

    I know there are people that see me as a babysitter, an entertainer, a handyman, & audio/visual geek. I know there are parents and grandparents that hand me their kids & expect me to work some kind of magic transformation on them after a dozen or more years of no real spiritual direction and little actual discipline. There are people that look at youth as some kind of labor force for the church, a liability to minimize, or an area a management. There are people who do ministry “for” or “at” young people.

    If you buy into any of this, you will likely burn yourself out.

    If you attempt to follow the teachings of Christ,
    and if by that are led to the desire to exalt yourself as a teacher and leader of young people,
    and if you are able to accept the issues above as the price you must pay for the privilege and opportunity to serve,
    you may have some legs for this.

    I don’t think issues like this are limited to youth ministry. Anybody trying to find a place in ministry that is safe, insulated, or comfortable may not pushing themselves in the manner to which Christ calls us to follow.

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