SMS: The Downward Spiral of a Youth Leader (Part 1)

“Garrett” arrived to his first Youth Pastor network meeting with the youth pastor look! You know, young-but-confident (cocky?), backpack-in-tow, as much facial hair as his 22 year old body could produce and a tight-fit stocking cap. He was quick to speak and let us know that he knew exactly what he was doing. He had an answer to EVERY question and his energy level led me to believe that he’d already had a second (or fifth) cup of coffee before he arrived at the 10:00 am gathering.

I love Garrett. And our network loved Garrett because we all looked past the Garrett he was trying to be and with/by grace we knew the Garrett he’d become. Most of us had been Garrett.

Like the others in that Youth Pastor Network, Garrett loved the teens at his church. His love for them grew and he was able to see the initial skepticism about him change to a genuine love for one another. As Garrett began to listen to wise counsel he looked to move from a one-man show to a team of 3-4 adult leaders who would faithfully pour into the youth. Garrett was “getting it” as a Youth Pastor and it showed as our conversations deepened at network and other social situations.

But then, after about a year, the downward spiral began…

I see this spiral way too often and there are typically three things that mark this downward trend. I write this to hopefully help the younger generation of Youth Leaders identify these potential game-changers.

These three things were true of Garrett, are they true of you?

1. Garrett Began To Expand His Ministry Role:  Because Garrett’s gifts and talents were obvious to many, he was asked to step into other areas of ministry outside of Youth Ministry. The once-in-a-while worship leading became twice-in-a-while pretty quickly. Many were concerned about what was happening to the high school grads and because Garrett had a heart for these young adults a Monday night Bible Study was formed for the students who were sticking around. Since his influence had grown the Senior Pastor asked him to take part in the board meetings so that Garrrett could represent those voices he was shepherding. The young couples at the church were anxious to get something going so Garrett and his bride took on the leadership role for the “Young Married’s.” Garrett’s twice-a-week evening commitments had become at least four nights a week, if not five (depending on the board meeting nights) or six (college, young married group, etc.).

It felt good to be wanted/needed and Garrett began to think that an expanded role will please the elders and they’d give him the pay raise he deserved (hold back your laughter please… he was young).

2. Discipleship Replaced Evangelism: First let me note that I don’t think that these two should be separated, but quite often in youth ministries (or churches) they are… Okay, back to Garrett. Youth Group Night was the time that students were encouraged to bring their unchurched friends, Garrett put a big emphasis on sharing the gospel at this gathering! Sunday mornings were “growing deeper” times as were the small group times (commonly known as “discipleship”). However, about 18 months into his time at this church he noticed more and more complaints about Wednesday night being “too basic” and “always the same message.” Students began to not show up and numbers began to drop. Parents began to voice their concerns to the board and to the Senior Pastor that students weren’t having as much fun as they used to. Therefore, Garrett changed his messages to being more “discipleship” in nature, most of the core returned.

The numbers improved (which often translates to “job security”), but he was preaching three “growth” level messages a week and there was no influence on lost souls. Evangelism “events” were often just another gathering of the core-students. Garrett’s personal evangelism didn’t exist though either…

3. Garrett Was Asked About A Different Position: Because Garrett had a vibrant personality he was a natural “upfront” guy. In fact, in multiple church group settings (camps/retreats)  he was often the guy asked to lead the game or lead worship. His network was growing and after two and a half years on the job the 24 year-old was asked to apply for a position at an out-of-state church. The raise had still not come in his current situation. His frustration of being out at least four nights a week had gone unnoticed and his perception that his job was being judged just by the number of complaints or non-complaints Garrett felt the freedom to sneak a peak at not just that opening, but ALL openings. The grass sure looked greener EVERYWHERE. Hiding the search from all others (including the network), he grew more and more excited about the other opportunities and found it almost impossible to put his best foot forward here. By the time we knew about the majority of his struggles and his search he had already said “yes” to the move.

Unfortunately Garrett’s story is very common. In many ways it has been my story at times. This is not to say that Garrett was wrong to leave, I’m not looking at placing blame, I hope that I can simply help some Youth Leaders identify some of the patterns that cause discontentedness. So the question arrises, what can be done to counter this?

Tune in tomorrow for part two!



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