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3 Ways to Fight the Urge to Quit Youth Ministry

 —  August 23, 2010 — 10 Comments

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.

JG

Josh Griffin

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10 responses to 3 Ways to Fight the Urge to Quit Youth Ministry

  1. Thanks for this. Ive been discouraged like crazy by my sr. pastor the last few weeks and feeling like even after only 8 months it may be time to go a different direction. I know im not the first to feel this way, and this hasnt completely changed my mind, but definitily is encouraging for such a time as this, so thanks, not just for this post but for all you do for your colleagues.

  2. Jason Chenoweth August 24, 2010 at 7:35 am

    When you want to quit, please know that God is okay with the fact that you’re struggling. He’s not mad or disappointed. But also remember that He is there. He is in the mess with you, and He’s not going to drop you. Sometimes we have to make changes in our ministry due to difficulties, but we never quit ministering to students. Love your kids, pray like crazy, and take Josh’s advice in the post. Those three points really work. I’ve been in youth min for a couple of decades. If I’ve learned anything, its that it will get better. I promise.

  3. After working in the corporate world for 8 years and now having a decade in youth ministry in the same church, I have definitely experienced those lows. Josh gave some great points and Jason some great encouragement and there are a couple of things I go to when I go through this phase. One, I remember vividly the times I have heard Doug talk about “longevity in ministry”. I think about the students I have been able to do weddings for, the families that I have seen all of their kids go through our ministry, the students who have come back and been volunteers in our ministry, etc. You get to see more fruit when you stay put. The other thing I do is over the years I will get that uplifting email, note, card, etc. from parents and/or students that thank me and the ministry for the lifelong impact. I keep EVERY one of those and I have a file in my desk that I will pull out and read when the going gets tough. Youthworkers-stay in the game! It is more than worth it!

  4. Ben- right there with you, bro. I recently had a heart-to-heart with my sr. pastor, we got A LOT off our chest and true honesty came out. IT WAS AMAZING! My thoughts and fears of him where laid to rest in a one hour conversation! It really does help to be honest with one another and try to work things out! I have to remember this one thought, “You are not doing this ministry for him but for HIM!” Thanks for this post, Josh, it was great!

  5. Josh,
    Great post, burnout and the desire to quit can rear it’s ugly head even after being in ministry for several years. Finding accountability partners, or veteran youth workers to talk with and pray with has always been a good source for me to remember the things that Josh pointed out.

  6. “You wonder if the elders on the church board are even Christians” I have been there… recently even despised for my youth by what I would call “my elders.” Focus on God is the key, His work is the reason of our willing sacrifice. Be faithful to God, you will find it is much more encouraging than putting faith in men. Great article.

  7. This is a great post. Thanks for writing this because it’s what I needed to hear.

    I’m so frustrated right now. My story is everyone wanted a youth group about 6 months ago so I answered the call. Got some kids together and everything was great. Now that the honeymoon is over I’m wondering if it is worth it. Our numbers are down to about 2-3 compared to about 20-25 when we first started. I’ve given kids opportunity to serve and have input in the program. Now it’s a struggle to even get leaders to regularly attend because they’re too busy going to parties and stuff. I seriously don’t know what to do. Our kids have no issue getting to the church since we offer to pick them up. Usually they just pick and choose what they’ll come to. The real kicker is that I have no commitment or support from anyone and when I come home I can tell that some absent youth were at home sitting on Facebook because of their status updates. Why even have a youth group if this is the case? I can’t even get funding from my church to run the program so we just use any money that’s charged at the door to run our nights (It would be nice to have a devoted youth den/hall and maybe a PS3 or something but these cost money). I’ve spoken to my pastor and he’s told me not to stress about it. Well it’s hard not to get a litte depressed and annoyed when you spend the week preparing for the night and only 2 show up. I do this as a volunteer and don’t even get paid, the last thing I want is to stress my family out with this. Sorry if this sounds like a rant but I just don’t know what to do. I’m at my wits end.

    Can someone give me some suggestions and even contact me via email. I really need to talk to someone.

  8. 27 years of music ministry (music/ministry?) … not sure how it all fits together in the Kingdom now … is this really what He meant? … currently in a very small church (>200) with some good people and a great staff … did about 5 years of detox from being on staff at a church and find myself back at it for almost 2 and wondering why? (ironically, my exit from my last church staff experience coincided with me and 7 of my worship team attending saddleback’s worship conference in 2003) … so how are we, followers of God in the way of Jesus, supposed to live into being the Incarnate Representation of our God here and now, in this consumeristic/institutionalized thing we call church?

    1) I have fought through it … many times, wondering why my more talented colleagues gave up (that was a while back) … 2) I have been surrounded by those who love me … that has not been an issue … I have been very successful with those involved in ministry with me and those in ministry around me … they have been more than encouraging to me … (my visiting mother-in-law told me today, after visiting our church, that I need to keep doing music ministry … that I am in my element … God is using me) 3) calling? i am not sure what that really means any more … or if God really cares about what we do, as long as we follow Him in whatever we do

    The thing i am most thankful for right now, is that the 30K i am making at this small church is helping to sustain my family of 8! For this I am truly thankful … but if not for the dough im not sure that i would be there … yet the whole idea of “professional clergy” seems an oxymoron to me … conflicted? YES! in a big way!

    Thoughts?

    I really don’t mean to be a downer … just came across your blog and thought I’d comment … blessings on you and what God is doing through you …

    Duane Taylor

    btw -are Jeff & Vangie Gunn and Angel Smythe still part of SB? if so, give them my regards.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Top Youth Ministry Blog Posts: August 2010 | More Than DodgeBall - Youth Ministry Blog by Josh Griffin - Saddleback Church's High School Youth Ministry (HSM) - October 25, 2010

    [...] 3 Ways to Fight the Urge to Quit Youth Ministry [...]

  2. POLL: I Want to Quit « More Than DodgeBall – Youth Ministry Blog by Josh Griffin – Saddleback Church's High School Youth Ministry (HSM) - November 28, 2010

    [...] It is funny how a little thing can trigger me down the path of wanting to quit youth ministry. A bad day, or a gut shot when I’m especially vulnerable seems to hurt me the worst. Seems like I fight it more than I should, especially considering the amazing things God continues to do all around me. Anyone else out there feel like quitting sometimes? Just curious how often in today’s poll. And you may want to check out this article, too – 3 Ways to Fight the Urge to Quit Youth Ministry. [...]

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