Monthly youth leaders column
The long haul
I flew 25 hours long haul from Auckland to London recently. My legs were in a permanent knot — not pretty. But the long haul is a phrase that has come to be used about the desired length of service of youth ministers which appears to be too short to really build a ministry. We want people to stay longer.
Does the fact that the average tenure of a paid youth minister is under two years matter? What is our expectation of those who commit their lives to serving God in a salaried role? Is it merely a staging post for those who will eventually move on to ‘real’ ministry? Should we essentially see it as a part of a pathway to ordained or even secular ministry? As I heard one senior minister say, ‘Do a bit with the kids — it’s a good preparation for church leadership’. The long-term consequence of that thinking is that all young people will be led by those who are immature, inexperienced or both. Of course we need some leaders who are younger, but do we really want to commit the spiritual development of our young people entirely to such people?
Age or gift?
Our expectation that many youth ministers will ‘grow out of’ youth ministry could well be built on a false premise. When Paul talks about ministries, he seems to major on the idea of gifting, not on their age. When it comes to youth ministry we have slipped our way into thinking that, once a person reaches a certain age, he has no future in youth ministry. Youth ministry is missing out on those people who are more mature, have more developed teaching and pastoral ability and who are also able to mentor younger leaders who are joining the work.
All this raises the big question. How are we going to keep people in youth ministry for the long haul? I spend quite a bit of time with leaders who are reaching the stage in their life where they have done a few years service and are wondering what the future holds for them. One of the major problems they experience is lack of motivation. How many more weekends do I have to organise? How long do I have to wait before the church leaders recognise that what I do with young people is an equally valid contribution to the life of the church? To be particularly blunt — how much longer do I have to go on scraping around for finance? If we are to keep mature men and women doing gospel work with young people all these issues need to be addressed.
Long-serving leaders need to be supported well by their churches. They themselves must regularly see if there are fresh ways of doing things. I tried, every year in my church in Sheffield, to set some new target. It kept me going for 12 years. With many experienced people leaving for other work, we need to look at ways of developing the experienced worker. One or two really ancient youth ministers have been talking about how we can help those who are trying to keep going in youth settings. If you would like to join us for a mid-week refresher, get in touch.
Dave Fenton is the Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org