You don’t have to be a youth worker very long before you feel the urge to quit. The challenges of ministry swirl together to create a daunting vortex of difficulty – church politics, ineffective leadership, slashed or non-existent budgets, elders, “the way it has always been”, conflicting visions, personality clashes, relational pain and so much more. I realize I’m not painting a beautiful picture of youth ministry right now, so hang with me.
I would say for most it hits somewhere around the end of your first year – for me it was a couple years in. The honeymoon was over and I got my first taste of church ugliness. You start to think about quitting. You’re just not sure you’re cut out for it. You wonder if the elders on the church board are even Christians.
I’ve quit many times before – only to be brought back to life by 1) realizing the problem could be overcome, 2) the words or encouragement from a close friend, or 3) realizing that ministry isn’t pretty or easy, but I’m called to it. If you’re feeling pretty low, I hope these point you in the right direction today:
Fight through it
Get behind the feelings of failure or frustration – are you ready to quit over a problem you created, a person you loathe or a situation that seems beyond repair? Throwing in the towel is an impulsive decision that has been thought about for a long time. [I realize that sentence doesn't make sense, but I really like it]. One final person, comment or failure pushes you off the cliff – the only choice you have left is to call it quits. But don’t settle for simply giving into the barrage of emotion. Is it really the end of the world as we know it? Is there really no hope? Is God truly done with you where you’re at? Be careful to test your emotions and motives when the going gets tough – you might be surprised what you find a little deeper under the surface. It probably is about half as bad as you think it is. Still bad, but worth fighting through.
Surround yourself with people you love
The biggest rescuer of my urges to quit are the teammates that I love. Surrounding yourself with great co-laborers is absolutely key. My spouse is number one – when I’m down she knows what to say, when not to say anything and what to ask to get me out of my funk. My team is a close second – people that I serve with every day in the trenches of youth ministry. Some of the people that share my passion, hopes, dreams and frustrations of ministry pick me up. Do you have some key people on your volunteer team that you love being around? Do you have a safe place to vent or talk through a situation? Our family loved having dinner with an amazing couple and their daughters this past week. Absolutely life-giving.
Remember your calling
I have a moment … that whenever I feel like quitting I hold on to. I was sitting in the Dean of Men’s office at the college I was attending, he simply said, “Josh, you would make a great youth pastor. Why are you going into business?” That conversation led me on a journey to what would eventually be a divine calling into youth ministry. That key mentor in my life pointed me to an opportunity, we prayed, God answered. I’ve served in 2 churches since then (one in Michigan, the other here at Saddleback) and have both had incredible highs and lows – and I remember my calling vividly when things get tough. Why did you get into youth ministry in the first place? Hopefully there is a memory or spiritual moment where you recall God calling you to serve His children. Maybe at first you just volunteered, and God did something in your heart. Maybe you’re still volunteering, but you know you’ve been chosen for this work.
Seems like I’ve been getting more and more emails from youth workers ready to throw in the towel. Maybe God is moving you? Certainly could be. Maybe it is a test of your character and He wants you to stay put? Either way – honored to be in the same profession with you, my friend. Hang in there.
Help someone who’s ready to quit youth ministry with a thought/encouragement in the comments, too.