Aging as a Youth Minister and Looking for the Next Runner

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I am not getting any younger. I am 35 years old, I have a wife, three children, and an emotionally needy cat. The gray hairs are starting to overpower the brown, which was once a golden blonde. I have crow’s feet on the corners of my eyes, my back hurts regularly, and my doctor just told me for the first time in my life that my cholesterol was high.

I tell you this because, just as we are entering a different season right now in the northeast, I am entering a different season in Youth Ministry.

The Launch (years 1-3)
I was 26 years old when I started working in my church. There wasn’t an organized Youth Ministry yet, though some efforts were made, and I came in to “save the day.” In order to prove that I was the man for the job, I took it upon myself to do everything. Others wanted to help, but I rarely let them for fear it would somehow prove me incapable. I was threatened by talent, regardless of the person’s age, and I was determined to prove that my church had made the right investment. Thank God this performance-driven season of my life didn’t last too long.

The Laborers (years 3-8)
My Senior Pastor and I prayed together regularly for help (in the way of leadership) after a few years of my being on board. I had worked hard and things were going well, but I knew I could not maintain the pace, and I knew we were about to hit a wall. Over time, God answered those prayers and multiplied the laborers. Moms, Dads, and graduates of the Youth Ministry filed in one-by-one to join hands and bring the ministry to the next level. Together, through trial and error, failure and fine-tuning, we fell into the groove we remain in to this day. The team is unified, and it is strong. I can seamlessly step in and out, and things continue to run just as smoothly. God blessed me above and beyond what I could have ever asked or imagined with the people He brought to my team.

The Legacy (as in now…)
The present. The events of my Friday (which is today) are a clear snapshot of how things have changed for me in ministry. Like an aging father (which is what I feel like at 35 years old in Youth Ministry), I am looking toward the future. I have no plans to leave right now, but would be willing if someone more fit came along. Yet, as I am with my own children at home, I continue in hoping to launch arrows into the world that will forever change it.

I spent the first hour of the morning today with a graduate of mine, praying for our Youth Ministry. This young man, Nathan, first came to Youth Group four years ago in a ratty t-shirt with his disheveled head lowered and a puppet on his arm. He would only speak to people through that puppet… literally. Yet, our kids accepted and loved him just as he was – so much so that he was loved right to the cross. Now he’s picked it up and carried it himself. Today, Nathan is a well-groomed, well-spoken, tender-hearted prayer warrior on a mission to see lives changed. I spent the morning with him because he will be a part of my “legacy.” He is what this is all about for me; not just growing a Youth Group, but loving and growing young people to know the saving love of Christ…that they may then go on to make disciples of their own.

Later today I called another young man (who shall remain nameless), who serves as an intern with me. I had an intern once before, about five years ago. Can I tell you something? I had no right having an intern at that time in my life. I wasn’t interested in seeing a young man come to his full potential. I was only interested in how that young man could bring me to mine. Somehow, God protected him and he had a great experience (just the other day I actually confessed what a failure I was to him), and we still have a great relationship. I only tell you that because today, my mindset is different. It is about investing in this next young man to help him grow and flourish. It is about seeing not just one, but now potentially two young men go out and make more disciples!

The picture today presents is that of one who is not solely concerned about today. No longer am I only focused on getting things up and running, or keeping them going smoothly, I am keenly aware that they will need to keep on going when my time is up here. Not only will they need to keep on going, but other churches, mission fields, and ministries will need young men and women to lead as well. I have a new interest in making sure everything is being passed down, for the future good of the kingdom.

My new favorite Proverb is this: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29).

In this season of life and ministry, I hope to use my “splendor” to intensify the glory of the younger generation in my council. My baton is ready. I’m not sure how much is left of my leg of the race, but I am actively looking for the next runners. I don’t know what God has in store for me in the future, but then, as a teenager, I didn’t know “Youth Pastor” was on the table either. I could very well be here until the day I die. What I don’t want, however, is to be here until the day the Youth Ministry dies because I wouldn’t leave. If there comes a day when my presence becomes more of a hindrance than an asset, I pray for the grace to step down gladly. Maybe I’ll go on to lead a church, thereby walking with a Youth Pastor of my own, or perhaps I’ll teach Youth Ministry at a collegiate level. Until then, may God be the Good Shephard, guiding me to lead all His sheep (whatever their age) to Him.

This is the second article in our series, “The Phases of Youth Ministry,” in which we explore the blessings and challenges of ministering to students during various seasons of life. Read past articles in this series here.

 

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