One of the hardest things to do as a Youth Pastor is to leave a Youth Ministry. I don’t think I have ever met a Youth Pastor who left a church because of the students he/she pastored. It’s always for another reason, and after spending a significant time pastoring students, leaving is extremely tough to do.
We like to think we made a significant impact in their lives, and we know that many times they are just as sad that we are leaving as we are to leave them.
But a dangerous thought can often lurk in the back of our heads that hardly any of us would admit, but many struggle with. The reality is this: Our ministry to them should not be the best ministry they ever get. A tip for those entering into a new ministry is to start from the beginning to create an atmosphere that prepares them for other voices to speak into their lives, because the inverse of this can be detrimental to the health of that group if and when you leave.
When I left my last ministry, we cried with our students on the ramp of the truck as we loaded boxes, but we also challenged and encouraged them that ultimately God knows what he is doing, and it was necessary for us to leave, not only for ourselves, but so that someone else could speak into their lives and take them to the next place God had for them. I’d like to think I did everything I could to set them up for future success and make it as easy of a transition as possible for whoever would soon replace me.
If you are leaving a ministry soon, whether it’s confirmed or still just something you are praying about, I pray that you consider these three steps to set the ministry up for future success and health:
1| Encourage them to see change as positive.
No one likes change, but quite honestly, we are in the business of change. We want to see lives changed in our ministries, and an honest truth is that its not us as pastors that lead any of this change, it is purely the spirit. We may be the person God uses for a season, but no Pastor is bigger than God. As much as we like to feel needed, ultimately, we are not.
2| Do everything (Say everything) you can to set up the Youth Ministry, as well as the church, for future success.
Youth Pastors often have crummy job situations. Unfortunately, many Youth Pastors leave a ministry because of a lack of chemistry with the Sr. Pastor or church, and these are often very messy situations. It can be very personal, and you may feel extremely wronged by many situations that have led up to you leaving. Whether resigning on your own will or being fired, that church is going to continue on where you left it. Keep in mind that although YOU may be leaving the church and the area, your students aren’t. As vindicating as it may feel for you to get to say your peace to the students, you are not doing them any favors, and your words can easily destroy any chance of future ministry for these students, or undermine anything good you did in their lives in the past. If for nothing else, remember that the church is the Bride of Christ.
3| After you leave and have been replaced, let it go.
It seems like a very rare situation where the Youth Pastor leaves a church but doesn’t leave the area. If you do leave the area, obviously don’t completely cut off relationships, but keep them healthy. Don’t undermine the new Youth Pastor by still trying to pastor your old students. Give them space and time to make a new relationship to the new Youth Pastor. You left them, move on. If you are staying in the area, your students won’t feel like you have left, because you haven’t. But do everything you can to encourage them to take a break from you for two reasons. The first is because again, they need space and time to be able to form a relationship with the new Youth Pastor and their family. Secondly, spending more time with them after the fact will just increase your opportunities to talk about the situation, and most likely, they won’t have had the time to establish the new relationship, and your words could prevent them from even trying.
If you’ve moved to a new Church and you have replaced someone, you probably were able to tell within days how well the last guy set you up for success. Consider that before leaving, set up your replacement as well as you hope to be set up for success.