Reflecting on my first year of unemployment

Schmoyer familyThis past year has been unlike any other year for me and my family. In November of 2010 I lost my job as the youth pastor at a church and have been “unemployed” ever since. With hardly any severance and no unemployment income, I was quickly forced to make a decision to either quickly find a job in town or to create my own job, although honestly, the former was never really an option I entertained too seriously. Even today, just the thought of working a normal mundane job in an office or store makes me cringe on so many levels. It totally is not how God wired me, not that I wouldn’t do it to provide for my family, but it was easily at the bottom of my list of options.

Since I’ve always had a strong entrepreneurial streak anyway, I naturally gravitated toward the community that’s surrounded Life In Student Ministry for the past seven years and started exploring the possibility of turning it into a full-time income. While the website itself has never really made much of an income besides some little ads here and there, the connections it provided were invaluable, especially at the beginning of the year. As the news of my unemployment spread, a lot of people generously offered me consulting gigs, bought advertising on the site, and booked me for speaking gigs. For a few months it felt like Life In Student Ministry might sustain us, but that eventually slowed down to a normal pace again and it became clear that I’d have to look for other ways to provide an income. Thankfully the Lord continued to provide through random opportunities, like an ebook I wrote that was purchased by Simply Youth Ministry shortly before I self-published it. (They’ll be publishing it soon!)

For a while I had really been gravitating toward the world of YouTube and online video, but when I suddenly had a lot of free time, I dove into it all the more. The medium of blogging is something I’m very familiar with. I know most of the ins and outs of this communication medium and how to do it well. But communicating through online video was an entirely new medium for me, a platform I had never really explored in-depth. It was all so intriguing and soon I found myself totally immersed in it, even becoming a semi-finalist in one of YouTube’s official contests for $35,000 and a promoted career and specialized training in online video. Although my audience was not large enough to earn enough votes to make it to the finals, I did make several good connections through that experience and later won a different contest that earned me free tickets to a YouTube conference in L.A. last July.

By that time I had started the YouthQuestions YouTube channel and was viewed by some as the “YouTube youth pastor,” which I proudly took as a compliment!

At the YouTube conference I expected to do a lot of networking and promotion for YouthQuestions, both of which happened, but most significantly I had dinner with Mark Robertson, the founder of, the leading blog of online video marketing. We had talked a few times previously, so it was good to finally connect in person. Out of that meeting came two ideas for a weekly video series: one that covers news in the online video world and another that gives tips and advice for online video creators. I was later contracted to produce both shows, which I’ve been doing for 17 weeks now. More recently, I’ve also been contracted to help with a lot of the behind-the-scenes projects at ReelSEO.

Is self-employment what I want to do for the rest of my life? No, I don’t think so. I feel like the Lord is providing for us while ultimately preparing me for whatever youth ministry position He has next for us. I really love working for myself and for clients along with all the blessings and challenges it presents, but my heart is for teenagers and families in a local context. Throughout this entire year my wife and I have been very active in the youth group at our new church, supporting and partnering with the youth pastor there however we can. It’s been a blast! And honestly, it’s what keeps us in the same town as our previous church.

I have learned a lot along this journey, some of which I’ll share tomorrow, but here’s why I tell you my story today: after watching 18 video stories of youth workers in financial need this Christmas, I’m reminded that there are a lot of youth workers who are struggling financially or who are even unemployed. They’re looking for an extra job or even a job and can’t find one, at least not one that works with their youth ministry hours. I share my story to encourage you to think about making your own side-job (or even full-time job, depending on your situation) that does work around your ministry. I realize not everyone gets excited at the thought of being their own boss, but if you do, take what you love to do, get creative, and find a way to “turn your play into your work so you never have to work another day of your life” (Dan Miller).

Two books I highly recommend you read:

Both are geared toward people who are in a job that they dislike. Us youth workers are already most likely passionate about what we do, but the ideas and principles in these books can help us not only tweak our current ministries to fit us better, but even help us turn our hobby into something that helps pay the bills.


QUESTION: Do you currently make an income doing something on the side? If so, what do you do and what ideas can you give to other youth workers who need to increase their income?

Posted on December 13, 2011

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