One of the biggest challenges of being in youth ministry a long time is staying thirsty. Often times veteran youth workers can get complacent and familiar with the patterns and cycles of youth ministry. Longevity often times quenches the thirst for innovation and this is one of the cons of staying in a place for a long time.

  • You lose a sense of urgency.
  • You lose the ability to think differently.
  • You lose the wonder of God working and seeing lives changed. What once amazed might still amuse but doesn’t create the same thirst it once did.

So how do you fight through this quenching? Lots of options – here’s what comes to my mind right away:

Celebrate: Celebrate with all your might when God shows up. Get good at throwing parties and never lose the wonder of it all.

Train: Pour into people (or your successor) and help them become great. If you don’t you’re wasting your talents and time.

Fix something that isn’t broken: Pick something you think is really good and make it really great. Small groups going OK? Make them incredible. Youth group in a little bit of a rut? Shake it up!

Start over: Sometimes what you need to stay thirsty is a new challenge. Ask God to move you on, up or out. This one is dangerous, so be warned.

Stay thirsty, my friend.


Getting into youth ministry is like signing up for a basketball league where every 30 seconds there’s another slam-dunk opportunity. But once you get into it, it feels much more like a soccer game where there’s a heck of a lot of running around before reaching a goal.

Let me explain.

If you’re like me, you do student ministry for those great moments: When a student finally “gets it.” When small group conversation goes deep. When a teenager posts, “Best weekend ever!” on the Monday after the retreat. These are moments that make it all worth it!

But what about all the other in-between moments? The moments that aren’t so exceptional – that are normal. Average. Gray. Like when you have to clean up the youth room after everyone has evacuated. Or when you have to make a hundred phone calls to get the event planned (the one that get’s cancelled because of bad whether). Or when you have to dissect the copy machine because somewhere hidden deep inside of it is a stuck piece of paper… allegedly. What about all the undesirable, underrated and unexceptional tasks of youth ministry?

Now, I get that there are “soccer players” out there – that is, people who love the running around. But my general response is, “This is not what I signed up for!”

But I wonder if God can teach us all something about those gray times in between. Perhaps the exceptional times of discovery in ministry are not the moments we expect.

Oswald Chambers wrote: “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. WE HAVE TO BE EXCEPTIONAL IN THE ORDINARY THINGS, to be holy in the mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.”

 I am guilty of wanting five-minute fixes. Of asking for humility and success and patience… and wanting them all right now. To some extent, we are all tempted toward the big, grandiose occasions, when people point and say, “What a life-changing leader! What an incredible ministry!”

But what if our best leadership today was picking up after students? What if worship found it’s way into filling out finances? What if God was waiting to meet with us each day as we move between meetings?

And what if God’s most exceptional gifts to you today in your ministry were hidden in the common wrapping of everyday tasks?

Sam Townsend works on the Training and Programming Team at YouthWorks, where he helps develop materials to point teenagers toward Jesus. After the workday, Sam is a youth group leader, a seminary student and a conversationalist over half-price appetizers.

For a long time in our shared calling we’ve made a big deal about being a “youth ministry lifer” – someone who does youth ministry until they’re super old. There certainly was good reason for that when the average stay of a youth worker in a church was less than a year and people recklessly used the position as a stepping stone to become a real pastor.

But here’s what I started thinking this morning: we need more youth workers in other parts of the church, too. We need more youth workers to become senior pastors. We need more leaders of businesses, organizations and non-profits to think like and care like youth workers. Why do we guilt people into staying when God is calling them on? Maybe it is a good thing that many don’t stay in youth ministry their whole life – I just want them to still think, serve and love like a youth pastor when they move on.

I’m not planning on going anywhere – so you’re hearing this from the heart of a youth ministry lifer: if you’re dropping out of youth ministry, always be a youth pastor, even if you’re title changes a little bit.


Have you ever felt that your job was like running a marathon through a swamp?  No matter how hard you worked, you just feel like you are sinking and bushwhacking through mess after mess?  When you turn on the lights of your office in the morning you groan at the piles of paperwork?  You ever just want to delete all the messages in your inbox?  And you wonder, “How am I going to get anything done with all these meeting?”  Yep, that can be youth ministry.

If you feel like you are stuck in circles or never going anywhere in your youth ministry it could be for a variety of reasons.  Some are as simple as taking a vacation, while others are something more serious like a conversation with the pastor.  But, before you can follow through on the solution you need to understand the problem.  To move forward you need to know what’s actually slowing you down.  The reason you could feel like you are running through mud is due to a:

  1. Lack of Organization – Do you have a plan for your week or day?  When you walk into your office you need to have a strategy to how you are tackling ministry, otherwise it will be tackling you.  Too many times youth ministers are reactionary to what is going on around them, all this creates is chaos.  By having a plan (With some flexibility) you can create systems that will keep your inbox empty, your creativity flowing and your ministry healthy.
  2. Shortage of Accountability – While you want a pace that’s comfortable for you, you need people who are going to push and challenge you through the difficult times.  When you face problems solo, the burden will slow you down.  You need someone to share your triumphs and trials with.  You need a support team that will help you move forward when you can’t do it on your own.
  3. Drop In Communication – Lousy communication means lousy ministry.  If your emails are rants, your messages are ill-prepared and you only say things once, be prepared to find yourself frustrated.  When you clearly practice effective communication you begin to learn the power of delegation.  You will see how your words impact productivity.  You will grow as a leader.  Effective communication is one of the keys to mobilizing your ministry into a movement.
  4. Disconnect In Spiritual Growth – If you don’t have a healthy relationship with God, then what do you really have?  This is the easiest place for a youth minister to be hypocritical.  You tell your teens to engage in scripture, to tithe, to share the Gospel and go to worship; however, you don’t even do it yourself.  You can struggle with those habits; however, if you are not at least engaging in them, you’ll find that you’ve lost your calling.

In order to approach all these areas you need to find the time to address them.  That means scheduling an hour or so each week to look at your organization, relationships, communication and spiritual growth.  If you aren’t taking the time to analyze these areas, then you will once again find your productivity and effectiveness take a hit.

What else could slow down your ministry?

Every few weeks, I hear about youth workers who need new jobs.

  • Sometimes they leave because they want to
  • Sometimes they’re asked to leave. We call this a forced resignation.
  • Other times, they’re outright fired

When I started to learn about how devastating the effects of youth worker turnover are for the local church, I started doing some research. I discovered several themes – the easiest and most common factors that cause good youth workers lose or leave their jobs. Make sure you’re not one of them

If you want to stay in youth ministry for the long haul, don’t do these five things:

1. Mismanage budgeted money. Depending on your theology, it’s either God’s money or other people’s money. Either way, it’s not your money. You’ve been given the responsibility to be a good steward of some of your church’s resources. You might not know what you’re doing yet, but you’ll need to figure it out soon. (This link contains all kinds of good information about managing your church’s money better.)

2. Fight with your Senior Pastor – especially publicly. One problem with working in the Church is that many of your friends will come from the congregation. We all like to vent about our bosses, but if you’re venting to a fellow pew-sitter, you’re in the wrong. If you’re in the business of creating division in the Church, you won’t be a staff member for very long.

3. Show up late for your own events. Parents have their own jobs with their own responsibilities. They know exactly what would happen to them if they slept through their alarm more than once. You can expect the same thing to happen to you.

4. Work way too hard and never, ever take a break. Your own soul care ought to be a top priority. When you’re worn down and hurting, you’ll be less effective as a youth worker. Less effective youth workers frequently become baristas. Besides that, a lack of soul care is the easiest way to make sure you run yourself out of youth ministry. The church doesn’t have to fire you if you get exhausted and quit.

5. Refuse to participate in the larger life of the congregation. You’ll appear much more dispensable if the rest of the congregation never sees you – or your youth group.

Find ways for you and your students to become a crucial part of everything the congregation does. Crucial people are much more difficult to fire.

Now it’s your chance to be the teacher. What is one of the money mistakes you’ve made? How did you fix it?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

Quick poll this week suggested by Rob Lee – how long have you been in youth ministry? Add it all up – internships, serving, part-time, full-time – and vote now!


Leadership is everywhere. Leadership books, leadership conferences, leadership podcasts. This week, we’ll look at a few ways to get some easy leadership wins and help you develop trust with the people you serve.

Show Up
Being consistent day after day in your church is a huge win. People will quickly learn that you care about them and their church when you give it your all every day. When you’re around, you’re all in. Make your office hours public and stick to them. Communicate when you’re going to be gone and when you’re going to be back.

It goes beyond showing up; it’s the attitude you bring to the table. You’ll never lose when you lead with humility. Learn to serve and you’ll lead people to Jesus. Be the first to arrive and the last to leave as often as possible. Look for the “grunt” job that others are avoiding, and instead of asking the intern to do it, do it yourself. When you serve in ways you aren’t required to, two things happen: 1) You do what Jesus would do and, 2) you build trust with those you lead.

Want to be a good leader? Stick around. The “revolving door” of youth ministers in most churches hurts the “office of the youth pastor”. In other words, when you leave after a short stint, you hurt the person who comes behind you. Tough it out and be a leader who sticks around for a while. When you make it through some challenges yourself, it helps others realize you can be trusted with their stuff, too.

So listen to leadership podcasts, read the latest book, or go to the next event. But know that every day when you show up, serve and stay you’re leading people quite well.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Youth workers serving with one ministry for a long period of time is crucial to reaching students for Christ. It simply takes a while for relationships with parents and teens to grow and develop. The more those relationships mature, the more doors and opportunities will be open to youth workers in their churches and communities.

I am in the middle of year five at my current church and because relationships with certain students have had years of development, I am able to be more direct and blunt with them. We go deeper and relate easier. This summer will be our fourth mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico and because of this repeat there will be fewer hoops to jump through when it comes to helping parents feel comfortable about the trip. As I have cultivated relationships with town officials over the years, local Social Workers now call me when they have students whom they think will benefit from our youth programs. And these workers are in no way affiliated with our church, or any other church in town for that matter.

Longevity really does lead to many fantastic opportunities in ministry. The problem though is that many youth workers go into a ministry position with longevity in mind only to find themselves packing up much sooner than expected. Some choose to leave on their own accord because a church isn’t very healthy. Sadly, many others find themselves burnt out or fired.

The fact is that longevity is not something that we find in ministry by accident. It’s something that both churches and youth workers can and should be purposeful about. This is what is at the heart of We Love Our Youth Worker, US as we work to promote our Seven Promise Covenant for churches and youth workers around the country.

Promises for the Church
1. We will pray and spiritually support
2. We will give space for retreat and reflection
3. We will provide ongoing training and development
4. We will give at least one full day of rest per week
5. We will share responsibility
6. We will strive to be an excellent employer
7. We will celebrate and appreciate

Responses of the Youth Worker
1. We will pray for our church, its leaders and members and our community
2. We will make our own spiritual growth a priority
3. We will commit to continued learning and growth
4. We will take at least one day off each week and vacation time
5. We will ask for help and share the youth ministry with others
6. We will strive to be excellent employees
7. We will celebrate our church’s investment in youth ministry

We are very excited to officially launch this Covenant on March 1st, 2012 and will then begin to accept applications from churches to apply for accreditation. Our hope and goal is that a movement will develop which promotes a healthy national standard for how churches staff a youth worker at their church.

We truly believe that these seven simple, but crucial, promises will lead to more longevity in ministry. This will mean healthier youth workers, families, churches and youth ministries. Ultimately it will provide the opportunity for many more kids and their family’s to interact with the Gospel.

For more information about the Covenant, we’d invite you to check out our website at

Jake Kircher has been in youth ministry for 10 years and currently serves as the full-time Youth Pastor of Grace Community Church in New Canaan, CT. He is also the US Representative for We Love Our Youth Worker. You can learn more about his ministry at