The average tenure for a youth pastor is cited to be only eighteen months. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of readers of the Rooted Blog have likely navigated – or are presently considering – a transition out of a particular youth ministry setting. Yesterday (see here), I discussed one dynamic often associated with ministry transitions: theological differences between a youth worker and the church that he/she serves. Today, we turn our attention to another leading cause of ministry transitions: the highly subjective, catch-all category known as “personal reasons.”
There are many circumstances which might cause a youth worker to desire a ministry transition due to personal reasons. At the same time, some youth workers find themselves contemplating a transition not because they were looking for change, but because change, it seems, was looking for them! Such was the case for me when I served as a student pastor. My wife and I had wonderful friends and were cared for by our church, but an out-of-the-blue opportunity presented itself in a way that we sensed could only have come from God.
As I navigated that ministry transition, asking the following three questions helped me make sense of all the factors. If you find yourself weighing a ministry transition, I’m hopeful that God will use these questions to provide a similar sense of his clear leading in your life.
Question #1: What is Your Purpose?
It’s a classic question: “What is the meaning of life?” Stated more personally: “Why am I here? For what purpose was I created?”
Contrary to popular opinion, we do not get to define our purpose in life, no more than a screwdriver or a computer can define its purpose for itself. Everything about those tools was crafted with a specific purpose in mind; the same is true for you and me. Our role is not to define our purpose in life, but instead to discover the purpose for which we were created by God.
You’ll notice that I am using the word purpose as opposed to purposes. Though we have different skin pigments, talents, and life experiences, we are all fundamentally alike. We are all human beings created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Accordingly, every person on the planet is created for the same purpose – a purpose which the Bible reveals in passages such as these:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
In his excellent book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, author Matt Perman synthesizes these passages to craft a universal mission statement for all of humanity. “The purpose of life is to know God, enjoy God, reflect his glory back to him, and to do this in community with others through Jesus Christ.”
As you navigate a potential ministry transition – or any decision for that matter – be sure that you are informed first and foremost by this purpose. Any other purpose will ultimately fail you and leave you wanting (see Matthew 7:24-27).
Question #2: What is your Life Goal?
While we are all designed to know God and to enjoy him forever through Jesus Christ, we are all called to do so in unique and exciting ways. Matt Perman refers to these callings as “life goals.” According to Perman, a life goal is a large and almost overwhelming cause toward which everything else in your life is marshaled. It is the specific way in which God has called you to know him, to enjoy him, and to reflect his glory back to him through Christ.
I can remember jotting down my own life goal years ago: “To plant a biblical, gospel-centered, missional church in North Georgia…” A burning bush had not appeared to give me this vision; God’s Spirit had used years of routine, very-ordinary Bible study and prayer. Yet the effect of knowing this life goal has been extraordinary in my life. It has served as a decision-making roadmap for both me and my family – particularly as we navigated the difficult choice to leave the church at which I was a student pastor, in order to pursue a church planting residency.
A biblically-informed, Spirit-led life goal can do the same for you. It can provide guidance in your decision-making. It can help you prioritize how to spend your time, energy, and money. It can give you immense freedom to neglect those opportunities which do not directly correlate to your life goal – even if those opportunities are good in their own right.
If you aren’t sure of your life goal, don’t worry! God has placed you where you are not by accident, but by his sovereign design (Acts 17:24-27). So do what is before you with excellence, and remain expectant. From personal experience, I can tell you that God reveals himself just as powerfully in the mundane as he does in the radical.
If you know your life goal, then use it to assess your potential transition. If there is a specific opportunity that will position you to pursue your life goal more effectively, then God may be calling you to make a change. At the same time, if a potential transition does not put you in such a position, it may be best to remain where you are.
Question #3: Is Your Hope Placed in Change, or in Unchanging Christ?
When I served as a student pastor, I sometimes found it hard to be satisfied. I wanted people to stop asking me when I was going to become a “real pastor.” I wanted a ministry that was more regularly prominent and public. Sometimes, I just wanted assurance that what I was doing actually mattered.
If you can relate to me in these ways, then you already know how dangerous a potential ministry transition can be to the integrity of your faith. It is often easier to trust in what a new ministry role might offer us, instead of what God the Father has already freely offered us in Christ.
We all need to be reminded of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Quoting the words of Jesus to his disciples, John 16:27 offers us this powerful and encouraging truth:
“[The] Father himself loves you…”
Why? Because people think we’re important? Because we see tangible fruit in our ministries?
“…because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
Dear youth worker: please keep in mind that a bigger, flashier, or more “missional” ministry platform ultimately does nothing to move the needle in your standing before God the Father. Your ultimate joy in life and your standing before the Father are not based on the prominence or the effectiveness of your public ministry. Your hope is instead rooted in your dependence upon Jesus Christ, who – in total humility and with little esteem for his ministry – perfectly kept the will of the Father on your behalf.
New opportunities do not offer salvation; Jesus does. Even in transition, let us never move away from the freedom in Christ which the gospel alone provides.
Check back on the Rooted blog tomorrow, where I’ll offer some practical wisdom – a how-to guide of sorts – about how to transition out of a youth ministry well.