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Swapping Youth Ministry For Church Planting

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Over the past year I have really been thinking about why so many youth pastors transition from youth ministry to church planting?

My emotional venting:  I have had many youth ministry friends get the church planting bug.  I have been so excited for them, but selfishly bummed.  I miss my ex-youth ministry friends and the rich conversations with them.  They pushed me to dream big all while thinking contextually and practically.

Seemingly, the youth ministry field is like college football and church planting is like the NFL.  Many of the talented guys and gals who know how to contextualize, fundraise, remain faithful to the Scriptures, and engage culture get drafted or called to the big leagues.  Some of the best church planters were former youth pastors.  The American teenage population is one of the hardest generations to reach.  If a former youth pastor can effectively reach disenfranchised teenagers he/she will most likely know how to strategically reach the 20-30 something crowd who doesn’t give a rip about church.

Let me be clear:  I am NOT bashing church planting.  I am selfishly looking out for the youth ministry field.  I love church planting and planters. I deeply respect and admire the peeps that just go for it, especially since planting is so hard.  I have learned a lot from church planters. In fact, I think there are a lot of similarities between practices of youth ministry and church planting.  There is no other ministry vocation in the church that compares to youth ministry, except for church planting.

My main question:  Why do some youth pastors stay in youth ministry for the long haul and others plant?

Why  (I think) Youth Pastors Decide To Plant:

–  Increase Impact

–  Frustrated with church senior leadership and church politics

–  Execute an ecclesiology that is rooted in Christology, missiology, and culture

–  Able to preach on a weekly basis

–  Utilize and cultivate all spiritual giftings

My secondary questions I need help answering:

(1)  What are the implications for the future of the youth pastorate when a lot of great ( and younger) youth pastors are leaving youth ministry to plant?

(2)  Why do youth pastors find church planting so attractive?

(3)  Do many of the ambitious, type -A, motivated, out of the box thinkers and doers, go-get-getters youth pastors eventually leave youth ministry for church planting?

(4) What in youth ministry/church needs to change in order to keep the church planter type youth pastors around longer?

(5)  How are church planters and youth ministers similar?

(6)  What are the general perceptions about the vocation of youth pastor?

 

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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11 comments

  1. Great observations. I’ve been pondering the same topic. It’s interesting that so many youth ministers end up there. I wonder however if that’s just the new pastorate? 15 years ago I’m sure that many youth workers ended up heading to seminary not to plant but to pour into the already estabilished church. It does seem “ordained” that the things youth ministry teaches us makes us prone to serve the unchurched or mis churched that a plant hopefully is going after. Thanks.

  2. 1. I think the implications can be far more positive than they seem at first for reasons you touched on in your post. The benefit of these moves can lead to the Church being more capable of reaching an age group that is marginalized consistently in the church in the 20’s/30’s crowd. If ministers leaving to plant would do an effective of training up leaders where they are currently, the “damage” will be minimal , and if they fail to do this, chances are they will be unsuccessful at planting a church where you must raise up and train leaders as a foundation of your ministry.
    2. I think many feel called to plant, but I fear control maybe an issue for some…let me be clear that I am not making a blanket statement.
    3. I don’t think it is as many as it may sometimes appear to be.
    4. I don’t know if this is something we can change too much. There are tweeks that always need to happen, but I honestly think most of them are simply being obedient, and as inconvenient as that may be sometimes, I appreciate their willingness to risk so much to further God’s Kingdom on earth.
    5. Not sure I have much in common with most of the church planters I know outside of being passionate about reaching people…the only difference I see is the demographic.

  3. Jeremy, I love the heart and the questions. I think Jon (above) has much of the same view I do. As I’ve thought about what you’re asking, here are my two cents

    (1) What are the implications for the future of the youth pastorate when a lot of great ( and younger) youth pastors are leaving youth ministry to plant?

    Obviously, it’s tough for ym to lose great leaders. We don’t necessarily WANT to see them go. But it’s definitely a two sided sword. We need them to go, in order to continue building the kingdom with healthy churches reaching the next generations. They, in turn, will train up the next pastors, worship pastors, youth pastors, etc. The vacuum left also opens up opportunities for new pastors, of all ages, to step in and lead. Obviously, that helps the kingdom as well.

    (2) Why do youth pastors find church planting so attractive?

    Like Jon, often it seems to be a sense of frustration with the status quo, or with a sense of control. I’ve seen a lot of men and women step out. Some have been blessed by God in their ministry, others have not. Motivation is key. A holy sense of being unsettled is a great thing. Stepping out to prove the “right way to do church” as opposed to all the wrong ways others are doing it usually doesn’t work well. I think many of us face a time in ministry where we have to decide whether to submit to our leaders, or leave. The shocker for many people is once they plant or become a senior pastor, they still have to submit. Like Jon, I am NOT saying this is true for all, or even a big majority. But I have definitely seen it many times over the years.

    The other side to this are the men/women who prayerfully, slowly step into it with eyes wide open. Church planting is one of the hardest endeavors in ministry. If someone is going to do it, I think doing it younger is better. Just the financial and time stresses it brings are a lot for an established family.

    (3) Do many of the ambitious, type -A, motivated, out of the box thinkers and doers, go-get-getters youth pastors eventually leave youth ministry for church planting?

    I think it is more that many of all types of personalities leave youth ministry. It’s just tough. When I get to step into the role of speaker on a Sunday morning for our adult services, I get 100 times more thanks and pats on the back than I ever do as a youth pastor. I think the church pushes people out of youth ministry in very subtle ways, more than a certain personality type being prone to leave.

    (4) What in youth ministry/church needs to change in order to keep the church planter type youth pastors around longer?

    A change in what it means to be a successful youth pastor. We need to understand that we are called to equip the saints for works of ministry. We ARE senior pastors. We need to build teams of adults and students to do ministry, in and out of the church. If we broaden our vision of what can be done, the challenges and opportunities are endless.

    We also need to understand that God knows our salary issues. I don’t know of one youth pastor who makes as much as their senior pastor, regardless of education, experience, tenure, etc. The church won’t likely change on this. It’s the business model influence. Ok, but what of God? Where does He figure in it? We must learn to trust him, and receive our encouragement from Him. I know, I know, it’s preachy, but it’s true.

    (5) How are church planters and youth ministers similar?

    We have to be willing to take timeless truth, and repackage it for a new set of ears. We have to be willing to work with the people more established churches don’t want to touch. We have to be focused on ministry that is not venue based. We have to be crystal clear on the role of family in faith formation. We need to be ruthless recruiters and trainers, giving ministry away and equipping people to win.

    (6) What are the general perceptions about the vocation of youth pastor?

    You tell me. Varies by church. But I will tell you this. Stay in one place for a long time. Ride out several storms. Lead well by example. Be a humble servant, regardless of what is easy or your personality type. Teach truth, love families, and obey the Spirit. You will change the perception in your community and elevate it. Every time.

    Just my thoughts. Here are some of my questions:

    1. Should youth pastors stay put and train high school students to be church planters one day?
    2. What skills do we need to develop to be strong leaders AND humble servants to the leadership that God has placed over us on staff?
    3. How can we train younger leaders to understand there is no “ladder” to climb in ministry, regardless of what senior pastor’s, elders, grandma’s in the congregation, or our paychecks tell us?

    • 1. Should youth pastors stay put and train high school students to be church planters one day?
      I really like this idea!!!!

      2. What skills do we need to develop to be strong leaders AND humble servants to the leadership that God has placed over us on staff?
      I don’t know. I haven’t figure this one out. I have swung to extremes trying to figure it out…..it is hard not being a doormat but you don’t want to be so aggressive like Donald Trump. I think surrounding ourselves with men that we think model this well and just ask them a lot of questions.

      3. How can we train younger leaders to understand there is no “ladder” to climb in ministry, regardless of what senior pastor’s, elders, grandma’s in the congregation, or our paychecks tell us?
      Hmmm…….. the corporate ladder is everywhere. Maybe this is why call is so important. How can we focus the priority on passion and not paycheck?

  4. I am currently the youth pastor at a church plant which was planted by a youth pastor from a successful youth ministry. One thing I have found while studying church plants around the country is that the most healthy church plants were started by ex-youth pastors. I have been trying to put my finger on for awhile now. One thing I can gather is that most youth ministers I know are starters.

    They can start excellent programming or ministries. They have the desire and passion to see things through. Also, to be a great student minister or youth pastor you have to be masters of their world. We need to be in the world of youth and very aware of the culture in which we live. Youth ministries are mirrors of the local youth culture. They need to be. We cannot all have the same model with the same language. This is also something that all successful church planters need to be doing.

    Then I think there is the fact that youth ministry is viewed as a stepping stone. A lot of guys enter youth ministry to gain experience for senior ministry, or church planting. they know they plan to leave before they even begin a ministry. From my college graduating class there were about 20 guys who entered youth ministry. From that 20, about half are still in youth ministry. The rest have “graduated” up to a “better” role. I entered youth ministry because I care about students. Not to gain experience for adults. and I know there are a lot of guys and gals out there who also love and care for students, but there are just as many who are using it to get their swings in.

    Why do we, those in the fight, still not take our role serious? It is not the minors, or the farm team. This is the majors. And Church planting is a very needed thing, we need to raise up students who will support those churches.

    I think what it comes down to is that there are not a lot of places for someone graduating college to jump into a senior role or a church planting role. So, youth ministry is the only option.

  5. 2) My question is beginning to be, “Am I called to lead a few, or many?” My pride tells me that I’m called to lead many. That scares me and makes me cautious. It’s difficult to be honest and humble about God’s call when it’s so easy to let pride seep in.

    Enjoying your questions and posts!

  6. “Many of the talented guys and gals who know how to contextualize, fundraise, remain faithful to the Scriptures, and engage culture get drafted or called to the big leagues”

    Hmmm, after twenty years in youth ministry,I haven’t got the signal from the bullpen yet. I guess I have none of these qualities. :)

  7. (1) What are the implications for the future of the youth pastorate when a lot of great ( and younger) youth pastors are leaving youth ministry to plant?

    This needn’t be too detrimental, although part of it will depend on whether they’re passing on their experience and wisdom. This post has been interesting though, as oftentimes you hear about how youth pastors burn out and give up on ministry altogether. If your experience is that they’re actually becoming church planters, this is a more welcome development.

    (2) Why do youth pastors find church planting so attractive?

    I think part of it might relate to an element of power and control, although not necessarily in a negative way. As a youth pastor, you fall underneath the leadership of the main pastor and you’ll generally have restrictions on what you can do, as it needs to fit within the context of the church as a whole. If you plant your own church, you’re the one in control.

    Like I said though, this shouldn’t always be viewed in a negative way. If God’s given you a vision for ministry but your church leadership is holding you back from being able to fulfil what’s on your heart, planting a church in order to be able to have more control and influence on the ministry isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    (3) Do many of the ambitious, type -A, motivated, out of the box thinkers and doers, go-get-getters youth pastors eventually leave youth ministry for church planting?

    To be honest, I’ve no idea of the answer in a wider context. Having said that, I’ve known church planters who used to be youth pastors, but haven’t known youth pastors who used to be church planters, so I’m guessing it’s pretty much a one-way street.

    (4) What in youth ministry/church needs to change in order to keep the church planter type youth pastors around longer?

    I guess it depends on whether that’s the best thing to happen. If youth pastors are giving up on that kind of ministry and become church planters out of frustration, that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. However, if God’s using their time as a youth pastor as training for becoming church planters and that’s his plan for them, keeping them around longer isn’t always going to be the best option.

    (5) How are church planters and youth ministers similar?

    I’d say they:

    * are passionate about people choosing to follow Jesus and want to actually to something to help this
    * tend to be more visionary
    * are more willing to take risks than other members of the church might be
    * are probably in touch with the general culture more than others may be (as someone else has mentioned)
    * have gained experience preaching, being pastoral, etc
    * are used to doing things on a limited budget

    (6) What are the general perceptions about the vocation of youth pastor?

    I’d say it’s still seen as a noble profession in the church, yet at the same time sadly not taken as seriously as some other ministries in the church. I think sometimes they’re viewed by parents as a teenagersitter, which is a shame.

    In terms of just a general comment, if it is the case that youth pastors are becoming church planters, I’d say this is only natural. Many youth pastors start out in this role whilst they’re still relatively young. As you get older, your passions change, your experience changes and your life changes.

    Although I’ve been involved in youth work & youth ministry for many years, that’s always been in my spare time. I’ve had a number of different jobs over the years and each one has helped me understand more the things I enjoy and the things I don’t. Each subsequent job has built on that, which in turn has sometimes changed what I want to do next.

    In years gone by, people tended to stay in the same job all their lives, whereas it’s a lot more different nowadays. I think youth pastors becoming church planters is just a small part of what’s happening on a larger scale in all professions.

    Finally, going back to my comment re Q5 about how youth pastors and church planters are both similar in that they want to help people make the choice to follow Jesus. My guess (and it’s only that) is that if they have the choice of helping a smaller demographic (youth) or a larger demographic (everybody) choose to follow Jesus, chances are they’ll eventually choose the latter, unless they’ve got a particular heart for youth. Both my wife and I have a heart for youth and that’s my biggest passion. I’m only 30 though – over time, that passion may change and it might be that I want to be involved in ministry with a different age or demographic. For now though, I’m loving youth work!

  8. Nice blog, I enjoyed reading it. I went to William Jessup University in Rocklin, CA…I recall the youth ministry professor Les Christie saying that if one wants to be a youth pastor he should be dedicated to it as a lifelong career. He spent his entire career as a youth pastor, authored many books, and speaks internationally with Youth Specialties. When I heard this however in class I remember thinking to myself that I am not sure if I would want to be a youth pastor long term. I think most of us look at youth ministry as an entry level job, a foot in the door to being a pastor. I have very few friends under 30 that have been hired as a pastor or even associate pastor, but I have many friends under 30 that are youth pastors. I am currently 28 and have a Bachelors in Psychology and Theology and haven’t had much luck in finding a decent youth pastor job…although I interviewed for a part time youth pastor position last week that pays so little I may have to work a full time job on top of it just to make ends meet!

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