It’s okay to quit your youth ministry job

Quitting Youth MinistryAfter serving in vocational youth ministry for 12 years and revolving my life around everything youth ministry entails, it felt really weird the moment I was no longer employed by a church. I immediately started looking for a new paid youth ministry position, a search that lasted two years. There’s a lot of reasons why the search took that long, but honestly, looking back on it now, my wife and I can both see that the real reason is that God didn’t want us to go back into vocational youth ministry for this season of our life.

But that felt very wrong because I regularly hear people in the youth ministry world saying, “Don’t give up! It’s worth it! Your kids need you! Set a faithful example for them to follow!” I felt a strong sense of guilt for coming to a place where I was okay with not being paid to do youth ministry. I felt like I must somehow turn my back on some sense of “calling” and pursue something less noble, less honorable, and less fulfilling in order to provide an income for my family.

But I’ve learned over the past two years that that simply isn’t true. I’ve learned that…

  • Serving as a youth group volunteer provides tremendous ministry opportunities that I never experienced as a paid guy.
  • There are plenty of kids outside the church who need to be reached. Ministry to them is sometimes easier when they know it’s not your job.
  • My spiritual gift of being a pastor/shepherd feels like it is used to a much fuller degree both as a volunteer and in personal ministry opportunities.
  • Ironically, there is sometimes much more flexibility to serve teens and to connect with their families.

It’s important to remember that just because you’re not getting paid to do youth ministry doesn’t mean you’re any less of a youth worker because of it. It doesn’t mean you’ve quit youth ministry. It doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned something you feel the Lord has instructed you to do.

What if quitting meant you could serve teenagers and their families in ways you never could before? What if it would somehow make you more effective as a youth leader? What if it meant you’d reach kids who otherwise would never be reached? What if it provided new ministry opportunities that you never would’ve seen nor had time for in a paid position? What if it meant you could bless others in new ways? What if it meant setting an example to those around you of what it means to follow Christ even if it leads to new things?

Let me be clear that I am not saying you should quit your youth ministry job nor am I even recommending it. We definitely need solid people serving in those capacities. I’m talking to those of you who may be feeling that the Lord is leading you to step down, not because your ministry is unusually difficult or because you’re tired, but because He is stirring something in your heart. Yet you persist because you think it means abandoning youth ministry or pursuing something less noble. Remember, being a youth pastor is not the ultimate calling. Being exactly where God wants you is the ultimate calling.

It’s okay to quit. Maybe it just means the Lord wants to take your paid ministry experience and use it in other ways to reach His teenagers and families.

Posted on July 31, 2012

  • I think this is one of those fight club things. We all know it to be true but no one wants to talk about it.

    In America, we are locked into thinking that youth ministry is best done via vocation. But the truth is that things have changed, that might have been true from 1980-2000. But it’s simply no longer the truth. (And hasn’t been for years)

    An unpaid person has several tactical advantages over a person who works in a church… and you’ve hinted at the big ones here.

    • Yeah, and I don’t even think of it as advantages vs disadvantages although they obviously exist. I think of it more in terms of where God wants you to be. And if that being paid to do ministry at a different “secular” job, so be it!

  • GeraldNC

    I’d love to see you post on some of the opportunities being touted for us volunteers. As one who years back received the call, that I believe was to vocational YM, and is still not in it vocationally, I’d be interested to know in what ways you post vocational guys see where we volunteers can make more of a difference.

    • Ya know, I’ve thought of writing such a post many times, but each time I stop because the stories I’d want to share really aren’t ones I can share online, at least not right now.

      To the youth group volunteer who wants to serve in a paid capacity, I’d say that time may come, but be content with where God has you know and know that He is using you in unique and special ways right where you are.

      • GeraldNC

        I’ve been blessed to have, for the most part, a great job, but my heart is in the ministry, so it makes it tough to wait…especially when work is no fun as it has been here lately. And because I am too tired of working at work I don’t do much to get out and see our youth’s events and things I dream of doing. After school ministry? I’d love to but…, Meet at Starbucks? would be great but…

        • Sure, totally understand that. Maybe get a different job (or start your own) that gives you more flexibility and freedom? I dunno. I just know that volunteers often have a different influence and relationship with teenagers than the youth pastor sometimes does. Not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just different and provides different ministry opportunities.

          • GeraldNC

            You read my mind bro lol. Been trying to find my next business idea for some time. I’ve always been a wannabe, and once was an, entrepreneur. Just gotta figure out where and what right now.

  • Thanks for writing this. I appreciate the emphasis on being where God wants you to be. If God wants you elsewhere, whether in vocational ministry or otherwise, it’s tough to bear much fruit in the wrong place.

    • Personally, I think God can use us wherever we are, but resisting a move we feel He’s prompting will never bring about the full blessing we desire, nor are we often able to be the blessing to others that we hope to be.

  • Jake Sledge

    That was encouraging. Thanks!

  • Matt Larimer

    I was a volunteer youth leader for eight years so I know that YM can be difficult, unrewarding, stressful, unrewarding, confusing, and … did I mention unrewarding? But I’m afraid many people who felt the call into youth ministry and are now realizing just how difficult it can be are going to read this article and wonder if they should quit.

    • Hopefully youth workers don’t equate a lack of rewards and difficulty to whether or not they should continue to serve. As I mentioned in the post, this is for youth workers who may even be experiencing a lot of ministry growth and rewards yet feel the Lord prompting them to move out of their paid role. I’m encouraging them to listen to the Lord even when they’re hesitant about making that transition. There is plenty of ministry outside the paycheck.

      • Matt Larimer

        You don’t think there are hundreds of youth workers struggling with the difficulty of their jobs and questioning whether they should continue to serve? This was one of the most common issues I encountered when talking with other youth pastors. I’m having a hard time imagining God blessing a leader and his ministry and calling him to leave at the same time. Maybe I am way off.

        • Of course there are. I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re saying, though. Persevering in what God wants you to do is exactly what you should do regardless of whether that’s inside paid youth ministry or outside paid youth ministry.

          Are you equating “blessings” to “stuff I like” and “calling” to “something God wants me to do?” I’m trying to understand if you misunderstand the heart of this post or if you just disagree with it or what.

          • What I’m saying is the vast majority of people who are going to read this article probably felt called to youth ministry and are now struggling with how difficult and unrewarding it is. And when they read this article they are going to be discouraged rather than encouraged. I would also like to know how you feel your pastor/shepherd gifts are being used to a greater degree now that you’re a volunteer?

          • (open mouth…insert foot) After discussing this issue with my wife. She questioned my assumption that the majority of people reading this post would be called to youth ministry. I admit there might be the same amount or even a majority of folks who are in youth ministry and are not called and may need to hear that it is okay to step down.

            “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” – Proverbs 31:10

          • lol I think I understand what you’re saying now, so thanks for the explanation.

            How you respond to this probably depends in-part on how you think of “calling.” I know it’s used a lot in regards to ministry, but every time I see “calling” in scripture it’s referring to salvation. If that’s the case, then how we think about being “called” to ministry or “called out” changes to a different discussion.

  • Scott

    Thanks Tim for your honesty. Sometimes we get the impression that “volunteer ministry” is less of a calling than “paid ministry”. Not true! When I worked as a volunteer for many ministry I got to share my faith more times in my life because I was outside of the Christian bubble. We need to realize that God is bigger than the box we often put Him in! Blessings to you and your family on the endeavor!

  • Excellent post. Been too long since I’ve been on your blog. i was just blogging my transition from youth ministry to what I’m doing now (still in the pastorate vocationally).
    I can certainly identify with the emotional weight of it all but lament how youth ministry has become exclusive to the professional. It’s an odd thing because it is not known to be a high paying position, but the title of youth pastor seems to represent so much to the local church, students, parents, leaders, the Christian marketers, etc. I appreciate so much of what people like Adam McLane are doing/saying. And while I am not suggesting that the vocational youth pastor go away (I’m not convinced that it’s a dinosaur), I am pulling for the many types of churches to find ways to serve the students in their community (in and out of the local church) and that plurality is a needed part of the future (as you illustrated). Thanks for the post – see you around.

  • Charlie

    I just quit after being a full-time student ministry director for 11 years at the same church, and went into a totally different (non-church) profession. I made sure to try to leave on a high note and leave well (with a healthy team of volunteers in place). There wasn’t a scandal, and I wasn’t burned out, nor was I going to be fired. I just knew that I needed a change. In the 4 months that I’ve been gone, I’ve realized that my identity had somehow fused with being in full-time ministry. That’s not healthy – no matter what profession anyone is in. Also, I was too comfortable working for a church. Now, my identity has been ripped away. (Nobody at my new job cares how many kids were in my youth ministry, or how many kids came to the Christ). Also, I’m seeing life the eyes of my volunteers. They work 45-50 hours a week, and then volunteer somewhere. I’m still in mourning (especially when kids Facebook/text me and as I learn a new profession), but it needed to happen. God is in control.

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