If you are a seminary student or college student and are about to graduate and have no idea what you want to do with your life or have not found the position you were hoping for, please do not just assume that you can then go take a job working in youth ministry as a stepping stone before you figure out what comes next. Youth ministry is not just some temporary gig. It is not just a baby-sitting job. It is not just something you decide to do one morning on a whim just because you can.
If you don’t know what you want to do with yourself that’s fine, but please don’t take out your instability on some poor church’s youth. Go be a barista somewhere. Go work construction. Heck, work at McDonalds. Go do a job where people are used to there being a high turnover rate. I’m not demeaning these jobs. What I’m saying is that they are very different than being in charge of a youth ministry.
Youth ministry is all about connection and building relationships and establishing trust. Your local coffee drinkers are more worried about getting a good cup of coffee than they are building an authentic life-changing relationship. While I do enjoy a good chat with my local barista and restaurant waiter I’m not looking to them for life and spiritual direction. But that’s exactly what you are doing with youth. This process of developing authentic transformations relationships takes time. It’s not going to happen in a month and maybe not even in a year. So if you are just looking to tread water please don’t suck them in as you thrashing around. It’s not fair to them. They need someone who is committed to them. They need someone who takes youth ministry seriously. They don’t need one more revolving door youth pastor.
“But I’m really good at connecting with youth,” you might say. Great! So that just means once they’ve opened up and decided they can trust you because you have been really good at communicating and connecting you’re going to peace out on them and they will feel hurt and abandoned and are less likely to open up to the next person to step into your role. It’s a good deal for you. You get to do ministry, pad your resume and share all your newly acquired seminary knowledge on the youth, but when you move on they are left behind grasping at straws. At the end of the day it’s really all about you and your needs not theirs.
There are a lot of reasons that young people leave the church and short-term youth pastors isn’t the only reason, but it certainly is one of them. I wish with all my heart that here in seminary we wouldn’t look down on youth ministry as if it was a joke. If you feel that way then I personally think you’re a joke. I’m not saying everyone is cut out to do youth ministry and even those who are, aren’t necessarily going to do it forever. You wouldn’t take a job as a senior pastor for a year while deciding what to you wanted to do, so why would you do that to a community of young people most of whom are incredibly vulnerable and impressionable?
So please think twice before you use youth ministry as your default. Think twice before you say “oh, it’s only youth ministry.” If you do not feel God’s call upon your life to work with young people then don’t. Go do something else. Keep loving people. Keep seeking God’s will. Just don’t leave a trail of disappointed and wounded youth in your wake. It doesn’t have to be like that. Humble yourself and flip burgers instead unless you’re willing to journey with them.