My first year in ministry, I was 22 years old.
I was young and naïve, incredibly passionate and excited to be in ministry. I was also arrogant, convinced I was God’s gift to the church (or at least to the particular church I was serving in).
Despite my arrogance, my first year in ministry was incredible…Until 11 months in when everything fell apart. Three months later, I left my church, bruised and battered, questioning my call and my place in the church.
At the time, I blamed much of what happened on my senior pastor.
Recently, though, as I purged my office of some decade-old papers, I found a report this senior pastor had written after everything started to disintegrate. I read the report, fully expecting my decade-old rage to return.
Instead, as I read this report, now as a veteran in youth ministry, I saw this man’s wisdom. Much to my surprise, this revelation saddened me. I realized that had things been different, this was a man from whom I could have learned much. I only wish that had been possible.
- I wish that rather than leave me alone until things started to fall apart, this veteran pastor would have taken the time to intentionally disciple me from day one. I wish he would have spent time investing in me, explaining the major theological tenets of the congregation and facilitating conversations with it’s saints in order to teach me about it’s history and culture.
- I wish this senior pastor would have attended our youth ministry, not with any regularity, but enough to know first-hand what was happening in it. I wish he would have used that first-hand knowledge to give me a six-month evaluation. Such an evaluation would have enabled me to strengthen my weak areas and in so doing, grow as a youth worker and increase the effectiveness of our youth ministry.
- I wish that rather than simply smile at the increased amount of youth suddenly attending our church, this senior pastor would have taken time to actually get to know me. I wish he would have gently and lovingly drawn attention to my weak spots, including the fact that to succeed in ministry over the long-haul, I’d need to replace my arrogance with humility.
- I wish that rather than joke about how the congregation got a “two-for-one” deal with my husband and I, he would have instead helped us establish healthy boundaries for a lifetime together in ministry.
- I wish this senior pastor would have taught me how to choose my battles; That not everything is actually worth fighting.
- I wish that when things got bad, this senior pastor would have stood by me, publicly supporting me while lovingly helping me to correct the things that had gone wrong.
And when things were irreparably broken, I wish this senior pastor would have helped me to leave well.
Certainly, I cannot return to my first year in ministry but what I can say is this:
Rookie Youth Workers: Value the wisdom of your senior pastor. Seek him out. Ask to be discipled. And then willingly learn from his experience in ministry.
Senior Pastors: No matter how competent your new hire seems, take the time to disciple her. Do the things I wish my senior pastor would have done my first year in ministry. If you do those things, my hunch is you won’t need to worry about helping your youth worker leave well. Instead, she’ll likely stay for years, allowing your congregation to reap the fruits of a long, sustainable youth ministry.
Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at ymjen.com