I got a great question about transition and youth ministry this week:
“I’ve been in youth ministry for 10 years, and have lived with the mantra that youth ministry isn’t a stepping-stone to being a senior pastor. Now I’m feeling a lack of drive for youth ministry AND feeling led to apply for a senior pastor position.”
1. How can I discern if this is from the Lord and not just emotional burn out?
2. How can I move on without seeming hypocritical to my teens, leaders, and even myself?
TOUGH SPOT! I’VE BEEN THERE!
Here is some of my story and a few things I’ve learned:
1. Rejoice: that this is a tough decision is far better than the “easy” decision of being forced out of ministry.
2. Discerning a call from God is intensely personal, I’m not sure there’s much of an answer beyond, “your calling won’t contradict scripture” and “well, you’ll just know.” Not very encouraging, I know. I forgot a third: “If you were called into the Throne room and saw angels, then you were called.”
3. I’ve been in ministry for 15+ years. For the first 11, I had a very strong sense of my youth ministry calling. The last four years has seen a lot of change, and my OVER ALL, LONG TERM calling hasn’t been clear. Each transition was unique. I’m confident I made the right decisions about the needed changes. It’s a blessing to look back with and have no regrets. More than wisdom and understanding, I wanted to decide with a pure heart.
4. The decision for my first major transition, to quit youth ministry after 11 years, was entirely irrational. I had severe discontent for several months—and this NEVER has happened to me. I’ve never gone 3 days with discontent. Everything was in check: my personal spiritual life, my accountability with others, my relationships were solid. Yea, I had plenty of sin in my life, but nothing catastrophic, meaning unconfessed or hidden. (e.g. I wasn’t secretly cheating on my wife or abusing my kids).
I am (normally) very rational…and stack up the facts, relevant biblical examples, wisdom, and counsel of others. I made lists, I examined every area of my life, everything came up the same: nothing had changed, everything was “good.”
I was simply being moved, and I couldn’t explain it. So I made the decision. Instantly I had a peace I hadn’t had for two years. I still couldn’t explain what happened. Two weeks AFTER the decision, God revealed what he’d been doing in my life, for the last two years, to get me to this point. Now, I could explain with great clarity.
5. I had clear calling away from youth ministry. However, I had NO CALLING to what was next. So unbearably frustrating. I had peace, but no clarity. I went back to the basics, “rebooted” my faith in every way, and rebuilt/reaffirmed everything I knew about who God created me to be in Christ… I had three options in front of me, and had ZERO leading from God.
So I choose. (well, my wife and I together). Without any clear leading from God, I moved in a direction. I decided God was saying, “You have to choose and live with it. I’ll be with you every step of the way.” I decided to take the riskiest option.
Ten months later, I made another transition. This one was completely rational. The current gig couldn’t last, and the new option appeared with amazing timing and fit my gifts.
6. How do you know God is calling you? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. If you’re on top of your game spiritually (meaning, living a life of consistent obedience), then I think personal discontent and personal desire are HUGE tools God uses to guide us. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. I think we can trust God to change our desires.
Yea, this is a risky piece of advice. Hopefully, I’ve clearly communicated the heart behind that conclusion.
7. As for seeming hypocritical: there may be nothing you can do about that, because you can’t control how everyone views your decisions.
If the transition is made in faith, then you aren’t a hypocrite. Make it with a pure heart, explain your actions honestly, and have the courage to say, “I guess I was wrong.”
Perhaps, “never say never,” is one of the things God is teaching you in this season. I know I have a lot more flexible view of God’s calling on my life than I used to. I’d not presume to tell you what God is doing, it’s simply a suggestion in response to the few words you emailed me. I may be way off base.
The truth about youth ministry being a stepping stone to another ministry is that it DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A STEPING STONE.
It may be that it was technically a stepping-stone for you. In your heart, it never was a temporary assignment, so maybe it technically isn’t a stepping-stone. Label it how you want: God may be moving you on even if you thought it would never happen.
The reality is that God often surprises us. Of this, there can be no doubts.
8. If you do all the “right things” and your passion doesn’t return after a significant amount of time (you’ll get no number from me!), then I would suspect that it’s time for you to move on. Jesus said that his burden is light, and that he gives rest for our souls. Yea, while picking up the cross, daily, is no easy task, it is one filled with a joy that surpasses understanding.
Do the things you did when you first started youth ministry, often we can rediscover our joy in this way.
9. Close friends, who are wise, are worth consulting. This is probably self-evident, but I didn’t want to take the chance. In my life, during major transitions, friends were primarily a support and provided a sanity check to know I wasn’t completely out of my mind.
Hope this helps. I know it can’t help very much, the most difficult personal decisions are so fiercely individual and lonely.