The voices leading youth ministry have said for a long time that when it is time to go … leave well. To be honest, I think I’ve even said it in the past. I’m not sure it is possible. Let me explain.

There is no such thing as leaving well. I don’t think it is possible! But you can leave better. Leaving well implies that it is possible to finish perfectly and that every relationship will be amiable or better when you go. Not true … but here’s a few ways to leave without adding to the pain of transition:

Protect the pastor

Don’t cause division in the church – you will only hurt God’s body and leave students and volunteers hurt in the crossfire of departure. Know that God will use that church for His glory, even if you are no longer a part of the leadership. You can’t leave perfectly, but you can minimize damage by controlling your tongue (and ears for that matter).

Sever ties
People ask me all of the time if they should maintain relationships with students and leaders from the past. I say no. There might be a few lifelong friends you stay in contact with, but be careful that your friendship doesn’t deteriorate into dissing the church. It is best to help students transition to the new leader of the youth ministry, even if it hurts more to say goodbye and walk away.

Leave better
Take a long hard look at yourself. Don’t jump right into your next position. Take some time to get alone and debrief with your spouse or mentor and get alone with God. Leaving is tough on a church, I’d say it is also tough on you, too. Leaving better means choosing not to divide the church, to walk away … and to work on what God reveals to you in the process.

It is impossible to leave without hurting someone. Even if you leave in ideal conditions people will be hurt to lose you as part of the church. Leaving is messy. Leaving isn’t easy. You can’t leave well … but you can leave better.


I (Josh) remember during one of my most painful seasons in ministry I got an email from a fellow youth pastor. The message was short and sweet — it consisted of 3 words:

“Hang in there.”

Today I’m heading into a painful meeting with a volunteer. He needs to be removed for us to move forward. I had a tough interaction with a parent who was upset about an illustration I used during our recent series on relationships. I had to call out someone for spreading gossip and hurting the unity of our church. It feels like every day this week I’ve been hit with something big or tasked with something extraordinarily difficult. What I need someone to say to me right now is, “Hang in there.”

Thankfully I’ve got some genuine cheerleaders on the sidelines of our ministry. They realize the long hours, tough conversations and painful weeks in ministry add up and, if unchecked, run you straight into burnout. I’ve heard a ton of encouraging words this week that even in a season like this — God isn’t quite done with me at this place. That even when things are tough, God is good and faithful. Remidners that He is changing lives even when the circumstances around our ministry are less than ideal.

So today, please hear this from me: Hang in there.

Fight the battles you need to fight today. Be strong where strength is needed and give in and be weak when it doesn’t really matter. Ask your mentor for prayer this week, grab coffee with a friend in your youth ministry network so you can vent and then gear up for another run.

No one said youth ministry was going to be easy. In fact, I think Jesus might have said our lives would be just the opposite.* But know that He is faithful and is building and shaping you and the people around you. I would imagine that you’re probably not done where He’s got you — that maybe you need to bloom where you’re planted, even if there is a little frost on the ground this morning.

So hang in there. And please remind me of this article the next time I’m about to quit, too.

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.

There are some tough times in youth ministry. If you haven’t experienced them yet, wait until about year four or so, where by then it will for sure meet you at the door. If you are doing effective, in the trenches ministry – there is going to come a time when you’ll feel like quitting. Honestly? I think no matter what kind of ministry you are doing you’ll eventually feel this way. No one is invincible from the urge to walk away. Here are the 3 times when I feel it the worst:

After the best event of your youth ministry career
When you are disconnected from the church, you are in danger. Have you ever come back from a mission trip on a high that no one else was on? Have you ever walked inside the church riding a high after the biggest overnighter in the history of your church only to be greeted be an angry parent or vindictive trustee? Maybe you’ve just given a project your all, and you saw God do something amazing, and you’re immediately called to lead something else and you were just hoping for a break. A key moment of vulnerability is when you are on top of the world.

After a key relational breakdown
There’s nothing worse than an intense conflict with your supervisor, senior pastor or key volunteer. When relationships go bad it becomes difficult to turn it off – instead just the opposite happens and it consumes us. Nothing hurts like when your friends leave you, when someone stabs you in the back, or when someone walks away from the church/God and blames it on you. The pain just doesn’t go away over night – often times it takes time or even a miracle to restore a relationship.

After a tough year
Sometimes it isn’t a key person, event or incident that triggers the feelings toward leaving – often times it is just the pile on effect of a tough season. A series of challenging moments, not enough to topple your strength by themselves, join forces together and can push me over the edge.

How do I fight back? Another blog post for another time. All I will say for now is that while youth ministry has its challenging moments, it is worth it. You are making a difference. And on the other side of pain and the feelings to quit is a strength you may have never even known you had inside you. Fight the good fight, friends. How about you? Share your moment of weakness in the comments.


I heard recently that a scary 90% of people who get into ministry fail for one reason or another. And I’m not na