The Myth That Can Kill Your Ministry

There is an epidemic in Youth Ministry that needs to be addressed.  A myth exists that is misleading and undermining potential Youth Leaders in our churches and Bible colleges.  I’ve witnessed it firsthand as I’ve seen fellow Youth Ministers move from one church to another before the paint even dried in their new home.  I’ve heard it in the voices of potential interns from our colleges.  And, from time to time, I’ve had to remind myself not to get sucked into its vortex.

The myth I’m referring to?  I call it the “Stepping Stone Myth”.  It’s not new, and I’m not sure it will ever completely go away, but I hope and pray it does.  It takes various forms, and I wonder if you’ve ever been affected by one of them.

1.  The REAL ministry myth
I remember a gentleman walking into church one Sunday with his family.  As I held the door open for him and his son (who was a student in our youth ministry), he smiled and attempted a joke.  He said to his son, “Ask Keith when he’s going to grow up and get a real ministry.”  He laughed.  I didn’t.

This strain of the Stepping Stone Myth leads us to believe that Youth Ministry is somehow inferior, less important, or less crucial than other ministries.  Usually, it sounds like this – “I’m going to serve as a youth guy for a while until I can move up to senior ministry.”

But stay strong, fellow Youth worker.  Know that God has called you, equipped you, and given you the opportunity to be on the front lines of ministry.  You have the joy of working with students.  Do they smell weird?  Sure.  But they are malleable, pliable, and they WANT to learn.  They are making decisions that will drastically shape their lives, and you get to be a part of that.  Don’t fall for this myth.  God may move you and shape you, and you may end up doing senior ministry.  That may be the case in my own life.  But don’t get tricked into believing that one ministry is more important than another.  To be honest, if you have that mentality, I don’t want to be YOUR Youth Minister.

2.  The ANY OTHER CHURCH myth
Have you ever met a fellow Youth Minister who is ALWAYS looking for another ministry and always sending out resumes?  I know a few guys like that, and it sends chills up my spine.  This strain of the Stepping Stone Myth says that your current church is beyond fixing, and that any other church will be better.  This often sounds like, “I don’t know, I just don’t think we are a fit here” or “we just aren’t on the same page.”

Is there a time or season to leave a church?  Sure.  Are there churches that are unhealthy for you and your family to serve in?  Absolutely.  But the fact of the matter is that the same problems that exist in your current church will exist in your next church.  They may have different faces and different names, but they are there.  I promise.  The church is full of imperfect people, and people who need to grow in maturity, including you.  Why not stick it out and help change your current church from the inside out?  Why not be the solution instead of another symptom of the problem?

3.  The BIGGER CHURCH IS BETTER myth
Do you ever get church envy?  Do you find yourself counting how many students the OTHER church brought to the conference?  Is the first question you ask at a Youth Minister meeting, “How many kids do you have in your youth group?”  If so, you may be suffering from this strain of the Stepping Stone Myth.  It often sounds like this – “I don’t plan on retiring here.  I plan to serve here a few years and see where God leads me next.”

What a horrific myth to buy into.  How would you feel if your spouse said that about your marriage?  So why would you take that approach about the Bride of Christ?  But the truth is that plenty of us fall into this trap.  We get lured in by large facilities, multi-staff environments, and big budgets.  But a bigger ministry doesn’t always mean a more successful ministry.  A bigger church doesn’t mean less headaches or difficult people to deal with.  And a bigger budget doesn’t always mean better ministry.  Remember the truth in 1 Timothy 6:6 – “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”  Bloom where you are planted.

The Stepping Stone Myth has claimed a lot of victims over the years, but my prayer is that you will not be one of its victims.  Give me a Jason Sell (15+ years at Lebanon Christian Church), a Brian Leslie (17+ years at Plainfield Christian Church), or a Ron Bull (20+ years at West Towne Christian Church) any day of the week.  May you have a similar legacy.

These are just a few of the variations of the Stepping Stone myth that I have experienced.  What variations of this myth do you have to guard yourself against?

51 Comments

  1. Keith, FANTASTIC article! I've been guilty of flirting with these syndromes and it's very dangerous. I hate to think of the questions we'll get from Jesus about our desire to use the church for our personal gain. Thanks for speaking truth and doing so in an encouraging way!
    • Wow Nick thats a great question, what if Jesus called us out for our desire for using the church for our personal gain. This is a fantastic article Keith. We should have used your meme for the post image.
      • Thanks, Ben and Nick. Appreciate the kind words. I didn't approach the subject here, but a person who falls into this trap will also miss out on the benefits of longevity. Can't tell you how awesome those benefits can be.
  2. Keith, FANTASTIC article! I've been guilty of flirting with these syndromes and it's very dangerous. I hate to think of the questions we'll get from Jesus about our desire to use the church for our personal gain. Thanks for speaking truth and doing so in an encouraging way!
    • Wow Nick thats a great question, what if Jesus called us out for our desire for using the church for our personal gain. This is a fantastic article Keith. We should have used your meme for the post image.
      • Thanks, Ben and Nick. Appreciate the kind words. I didn't approach the subject here, but a person who falls into this trap will also miss out on the benefits of longevity. Can't tell you how awesome those benefits can be.
  3. What does it say to the students in our ministries if we use the language of "get a real ministry" (Number 1 above)? How does that show them any value? I suspect that plays a role in the numbers of students that leave the church as well, if my "pastor/leader" used me to move his career forward, I'd feel used, not loved...
  4. What does it say to the students in our ministries if we use the language of "get a real ministry" (Number 1 above)? How does that show them any value? I suspect that plays a role in the numbers of students that leave the church as well, if my "pastor/leader" used me to move his career forward, I'd feel used, not loved...
    • Great call, Shawn. It doesn't show love, compassion, commitment, or value to a person if they are simply a stepping stone to something "better." You're so right.
  5. Relevant post, I appreciate it. I've been there on many "is it worth it?" moments. It always is worth it, but in the moment, all options are on the table. I have been at my church for 15yrs now and every one of these topics has come and gone. @Keith your comment "but a person who falls into this trap will also miss out on the benefits of longevity" is solid. My time at this church makes me the "long timer" in town. This is the only church I have served at and I wouldn't trade the history here for anything. That history is what takes us from being the youth guy to a minister of the church. After enough time, folks see that we have skin in the game. We love youth, but our heart breaks when a 50 year old finds out she have cancer. We love Jesus and we can't help but hurt. Much love bros. It's worth it.
    • Hey Donnie, kudos for being at your church for 15 years. That's awesome. My favorite thing in the world is seeing people's faces when I tell them I've been at my church over a decade. It is hilarious and sad at the same time. Shouldn't that be the goal? Call me crazy. Thanks for the feedback, man. God bless.
  6. Relevant post, I appreciate it. I've been there on many "is it worth it?" moments. It always is worth it, but in the moment, all options are on the table. I have been at my church for 15yrs now and every one of these topics has come and gone. @Keith your comment "but a person who falls into this trap will also miss out on the benefits of longevity" is solid. My time at this church makes me the "long timer" in town. This is the only church I have served at and I wouldn't trade the history here for anything. That history is what takes us from being the youth guy to a minister of the church. After enough time, folks see that we have skin in the game. We love youth, but our heart breaks when a 50 year old finds out she have cancer. We love Jesus and we can't help but hurt. Much love bros. It's worth it.
    • Hey Donnie, kudos for being at your church for 15 years. That's awesome. My favorite thing in the world is seeing people's faces when I tell them I've been at my church over a decade. It is hilarious and sad at the same time. Shouldn't that be the goal? Call me crazy. Thanks for the feedback, man. God bless.
  7. Very encouraging article - thanks Keith. I recently moved from my first ministry position to another one in a completely different state. When it was announced that I would be leaving the Church to go to a Church in North Carolina, the congregation assumed that I was going to be a "real pastor". Every time they asked about it I would say something along the lines of, "No, I'm still going to be a Youth Pastor - in fact, I plan on a lifetime of Youth Ministry" - I would always get puzzled looks and respond, "Youth are easy - it's the adults that are tough!". This would always get a laugh or two (and they thought I was joking ;) )
    • Haha, people just don't get it. Considering most people accept Christ before age 18, you would think people would understand Youth Ministry as a front-lines sort of thing, but they just don't get it. Crazy.
  8. Very encouraging article - thanks Keith. I recently moved from my first ministry position to another one in a completely different state. When it was announced that I would be leaving the Church to go to a Church in North Carolina, the congregation assumed that I was going to be a "real pastor". Every time they asked about it I would say something along the lines of, "No, I'm still going to be a Youth Pastor - in fact, I plan on a lifetime of Youth Ministry" - I would always get puzzled looks and respond, "Youth are easy - it's the adults that are tough!". This would always get a laugh or two (and they thought I was joking ;) )
    • Haha, people just don't get it. Considering most people accept Christ before age 18, you would think people would understand Youth Ministry as a front-lines sort of thing, but they just don't get it. Crazy.
  9. Great post, this is exactly what my new book is about, I would be honored if you would check it out. http://www.amazon.com/Flimsy-Ministry-Brian-Seidel/dp/0985484705/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348807268&sr=8-1&keywords=flimsy+ministry I have been at my church for 10 years, and I would not mind spending my entire career there. It is great to read the comments of other people with that same attitude!
  10. Not guard myself against, but I was curious- shouldn't there be some type of experience in every ministry that a senior pastor can know how to better equip his staff in all areas to best lead Gods people? children's, students, adults, care? Not in a stepping stone way but in a serious progression of experience and life? Sometimes it feels like the guys that are unable to ultimately lead the church make the excuse or attack those that God has raised up as senior pastors and giving them vision for the entire church body from the youngest to the oldest? Instead of celebrating the transition to shepherd Gods people they tear them down as "using youth ministry as a stepping stone". Feels like it comes from an insecurity in their leadership rather than a heart of seeing the growth of the big C church. Your second point was solid! I loved it! Man- grass is greener syndrome kills! The last one I could go either way. I agree bigger isn't always better--can create envy- but on some level I want to be successful. The fatal flaw of pride can creep in, but if the success is given to God- pursue excellence and success! However, how do I measure that? Growth feels like it has to be given some value in terms of measuring success. Albeit not the end all or standard, but has to play some role right? Look forward to your thoughts! Loved your article and off to your site Keith to find more :) blessings! -db
    • Hey David, thanks for your thoughts, and your honest feedback. I think on both articles (I'll comment on the other one on my other site) a careful read would show you we are on the exact same page. I note in the first point that God "may lead you to senior ministry, and may even do that in my own life." I don't see that as a problem. The problem is when graduates from our Bible colleges enter Youth Ministry while looking past it to "something bigger." I agree that those who have been in Youth Ministry or Children's Ministry can often be the best Lead Pastors. On the last point, I think it's all about your view of success. In our ministry, we have started defining success by 3 criteria - 1) baptisms, 2) percentage of students in our LifeGroups compared to our big group time, and 3) students in Bible college. I'm at a church of 750, and have been offered positions at ministries much larger, but I prefer to bloom where I'm planted. Until God clearly calls me elsewhere, I will pursue excellence here. I think we are on the same page, man. I greatly appreciate your thoughts. Keep up the great work - may God richly bless you and your ministry.
  11. Not guard myself against, but I was curious- shouldn't there be some type of experience in every ministry that a senior pastor can know how to better equip his staff in all areas to best lead Gods people? children's, students, adults, care? Not in a stepping stone way but in a serious progression of experience and life? Sometimes it feels like the guys that are unable to ultimately lead the church make the excuse or attack those that God has raised up as senior pastors and giving them vision for the entire church body from the youngest to the oldest? Instead of celebrating the transition to shepherd Gods people they tear them down as "using youth ministry as a stepping stone". Feels like it comes from an insecurity in their leadership rather than a heart of seeing the growth of the big C church. Your second point was solid! I loved it! Man- grass is greener syndrome kills! The last one I could go either way. I agree bigger isn't always better--can create envy- but on some level I want to be successful. The fatal flaw of pride can creep in, but if the success is given to God- pursue excellence and success! However, how do I measure that? Growth feels like it has to be given some value in terms of measuring success. Albeit not the end all or standard, but has to play some role right? Look forward to your thoughts! Loved your article and off to your site Keith to find more :) blessings! -db
    • Hey David, thanks for your thoughts, and your honest feedback. I think on both articles (I'll comment on the other one on my other site) a careful read would show you we are on the exact same page. I note in the first point that God "may lead you to senior ministry, and may even do that in my own life." I don't see that as a problem. The problem is when graduates from our Bible colleges enter Youth Ministry while looking past it to "something bigger." I agree that those who have been in Youth Ministry or Children's Ministry can often be the best Lead Pastors. On the last point, I think it's all about your view of success. In our ministry, we have started defining success by 3 criteria - 1) baptisms, 2) percentage of students in our LifeGroups compared to our big group time, and 3) students in Bible college. I'm at a church of 750, and have been offered positions at ministries much larger, but I prefer to bloom where I'm planted. Until God clearly calls me elsewhere, I will pursue excellence here. I think we are on the same page, man. I greatly appreciate your thoughts. Keep up the great work - may God richly bless you and your ministry.
  12. Keith, this is great! I get so frustrated with the competition of bigger being better. Because we all know that when a youth group is busting at the seams then it is where Jesus is at (sarcasm). I am over 30+ youth and have been for only 7 months... Since then I have seen 6 youth come to Christ, discipleship growth, and kids excited to share their faith. Just because you are a youth pastor at a bigger church does not make your job anymore important than mine. I'm excited to see what God is doing and I'm not using my church as a stepping stone.. and I will be here till the Lord calls me somewhere else. That is okay. Humility is knowing that God is bigger than a position.
  13. Keith, this is great! I get so frustrated with the competition of bigger being better. Because we all know that when a youth group is busting at the seams then it is where Jesus is at (sarcasm). I am over 30+ youth and have been for only 7 months... Since then I have seen 6 youth come to Christ, discipleship growth, and kids excited to share their faith. Just because you are a youth pastor at a bigger church does not make your job anymore important than mine. I'm excited to see what God is doing and I'm not using my church as a stepping stone.. and I will be here till the Lord calls me somewhere else. That is okay. Humility is knowing that God is bigger than a position.
    • Great words, Jennifer. Congrats on the growth (numerically and spiritually) in your church. Keep up the great work - the Kingdom is blessed to have you.
  14. Keith I just came across this web site. Good stuff! But I still don't feel bad for moving to Boise after 7 years in Indy and going to a bigger church in a focused ministry... no matter how bad you try to make me feel! ;) ha ha love you man!
  15. Keith I just came across this web site. Good stuff! But I still don't feel bad for moving to Boise after 7 years in Indy and going to a bigger church in a focused ministry... no matter how bad you try to make me feel! ;) ha ha love you man!
  16. I feel the same way. I wrote a small article on my blog about this once because I was dealing with it. I think this will be something we will deal with at all times. Here is my article. http://chaddillon.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/when-are-you-going-to-become-a-real-minister/
  17. I may be considered one who's using youth ministry as a stepping stone, but I don't see my actions that way. I know God has called me to where I am currently, and I have definitely heard my call for the future is in more of a traditional pastoral role. I love working with my church and its youth, they are wonderful people so full of passion for many things that the older generations just aren't. I have confidence in both callings, and am luckily able at my current church to help in the many ministries, because we are a smaller church. Best part of where I am, our pastor recognizes both calls God has placed on my life, and is willing to and does invest in both my current call youth ministry, and my future call pastoral ministry. I know someone will probably be upset that I'm so confident in both calls, but I can't help but know what those two calls, and know that they are meant for different times of my life.
    • Hey Sean, interesting comment. I guess I would ask you if you are confident in the call or in the plan you have become comfortable with? I'm trying to think of Biblical characters that were called to do something before they were finished doing the first thing God had called them to. I'm not arguing, just wondering. I think the key for you if you pursue the second calling is not to check out of the first. That's where I see a major problem a lot of times...the person decides the pastoral calling is more important, so they float through their first ministry in an effort to reach the "goal." Thanks for checking this out and commenting honestly, it's much appreciated.
      • I passively look for educational opportunities, but I want the right school and it has to be online or at least within 50 miles, and relatively cheap. So far nothing has really caught my eye educationally. One of the reasons I have those requirements for my education is so that I can continue serving the teens I'm called to serve right now.
  18. I may be considered one who's using youth ministry as a stepping stone, but I don't see my actions that way. I know God has called me to where I am currently, and I have definitely heard my call for the future is in more of a traditional pastoral role. I love working with my church and its youth, they are wonderful people so full of passion for many things that the older generations just aren't. I have confidence in both callings, and am luckily able at my current church to help in the many ministries, because we are a smaller church. Best part of where I am, our pastor recognizes both calls God has placed on my life, and is willing to and does invest in both my current call youth ministry, and my future call pastoral ministry. I know someone will probably be upset that I'm so confident in both calls, but I can't help but know what those two calls, and know that they are meant for different times of my life.
    • Hey Sean, interesting comment. I guess I would ask you if you are confident in the call or in the plan you have become comfortable with? I'm trying to think of Biblical characters that were called to do something before they were finished doing the first thing God had called them to. I'm not arguing, just wondering. I think the key for you if you pursue the second calling is not to check out of the first. That's where I see a major problem a lot of times...the person decides the pastoral calling is more important, so they float through their first ministry in an effort to reach the "goal." Thanks for checking this out and commenting honestly, it's much appreciated.
      • I passively look for educational opportunities, but I want the right school and it has to be online or at least within 50 miles, and relatively cheap. So far nothing has really caught my eye educationally. One of the reasons I have those requirements for my education is so that I can continue serving the teens I'm called to serve right now.
  19. My wife, then fiance, overheard a conversation of ministry students in the cafeteria at school. One said, "I'm going to get into youth ministry at a church so they'll pay for my seminary and then skip out and get a real job." I'm proud of her, my wife, it took all she had to not say anything. Thanks for the post. I am all in on your assessment. Youth Ministry is a calling as much as any other ministry. I'm a youth pastor now. But I love to teach. I'm sure that God will direct me to different things and I'm excited. But I will stay focused on the students in my community. Thanks.
  20. My wife, then fiance, overheard a conversation of ministry students in the cafeteria at school. One said, "I'm going to get into youth ministry at a church so they'll pay for my seminary and then skip out and get a real job." I'm proud of her, my wife, it took all she had to not say anything. Thanks for the post. I am all in on your assessment. Youth Ministry is a calling as much as any other ministry. I'm a youth pastor now. But I love to teach. I'm sure that God will direct me to different things and I'm excited. But I will stay focused on the students in my community. Thanks.
  21. This article got me thinking about something I have been dealing with..."Should I Stay or Should I Go??" I am in complete and total agreement that longevity in ministry is important and using one ministry as a springboard into the next ministry or a so called "real ministry" can be more of a detriment then beneficial. However, when should the line be drawn and the move take place? I read a lot about longevity in ministry and feel bad when I consider leaving my ministry after 6 years. I desire long term ministry and the benefits that come from that, but I feel my passion for ministry all together beginning to fade away. When it comes to ministry I feel empty, alone, and unsuccessful. I wonder how God can use me when my joy for His work is sadly, gone. Now I sound like a blubbering idiot, sorry for the ride on the depression train. This is a little out of place, and I apologize, I am new to youthmin.org and I am wondering if there is a place on the site where youth ministers can share and get some advice from other youth ministers? I am using an alias, because there are some people who use this site that know me…another “joy” of ministry :)
  22. Great post and great points Keith. I especially love that you address the "new church, same people, same problems" point. I also often think it is ironic that so many are quick to get frustrated and leave for another church, but we feel so hurt and betrayed when those within our ministry do the same to us. I also appreciate you addressing the bigger isn't better point. There will always be someone bigger. You must define the success of your ministry beyond the size or you will give up pretty quickly. Thanks for the encouragement and the challenge! Keep at it friend!
  23. I've bought into all 3 of these myths in my 12 years of student ministry (#3 is my hardest to tackle). But this article is spot-on for all three points. Great word.

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