When the Hearts of the Young are Broken

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately processing through the fragile nature of relationships with young people.  Youth ministry is all about relationships. (If my stance on that hasn’t become clear on my previous series on Incarnational Youth Ministry, then maybe this post will clear it up.)  Relationships with young people are built on a few different things, among which are shared experiences, trust, and authenticity. Those things take a long time to build, and just an instant  to shatter.

I have always said that one of the most difficult parts of ministry is the transition out of a position–mostly because that transition naturally involves a good deal of heartbreak on both sides of the equation.  When a person is really called into youth ministry, two things are of central importance: first, the relationship that person has with Jesus Christ; and second, the relationships that person has with young people.  The relationships that a youth minister shares with young people are sacred–they are a place where the beauty of Jesus Christ enters into the messy realities of adolescence.  Transitioning from a position in ministry means letting go of those relationships to some degree, and that letting go involves grieving on both sides.

It breaks my heart when I hear of youth ministers who leave their position without giving any notice to the congregation or the young people.  It is unfair, and it causes far more wounding than is necessary.  If God is really calling you to a new place for a new season, then the transition out of a position should be a time of remembering and celebration, a time of grieving the loss of relationships (or at least the capacity of relationship that has been maintained during the time in ministry) and of celebrating the work of God.

In my humble opinion, there must be a way to leave well–to bless and release–to grieve the loss of what has been and look to the future knowing that while relationships won’t be the same, they can still exist–just in a new capacity.

As a person called into ministry with young people, I recognize with humility the sacredness and fragility involved in the relationships I develop with young people.  I pray each and every day that I am a good steward of that which God has entrusted to me, and that I may never cause unnecessary wounds in the lives of the young people that I care for so deeply.

I’d like to open this up for some discussion–if you are a parent, if you are a young person or member of a youth group, if you are a fellow youth minister, if you are a church member who has been affected by the leaving of a youth minister, if you are a pastor or other church leader–what can those in youth ministry do to ease the pain of transition?  What do you do as a ministry leader to be sure that you are leaving well?  What would help you as a church member or young person to ease the grief in a time of transition?  Let’s talk about this.


6 thoughts on “When the Hearts of the Young are Broken

  1. This is difficult for me to discuss. It hits way too close to home. But it is hard when there are no good-byes, no transition time. It’s good to experience life and unfortunately, loss is part of life. But to have no closure, no resolution makes it very difficult to understand. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to someone; it’s even harder when you aren’t given that opportunity. Open discussion and remembering is always good. Talking about the new future is good. And most of all, helping young people to know that there will be many people in your life for a “season” — they will come, they will be with you, they will help you, they will show you what God wants them to show you; and when they have fulfilled their mission in your life, they will move on to be in someone else’s life. Not ever gone forever because of the impact they made on your life. Thank you God for these people!!!


    1. Laurie – I really appreciate your contribution to this conversation… I’m hoping that more people will jump in. This sort of thing affects so many different people in so many different ways–it affects parents (obviously), it affects students, it affects church leaders and volunteers, it affects other staff members, and it affects those of us in youth ministry.

      I talk to young people all the time about people joining our lives for a “season,” and I’m so thankful for the people have been in my own life for various seasons. I hope that I can communicate that to young people very intelligently and that we can continue to move this conversation into a place that will create more healthy ministry relationships for everyone involved.


  2. As a person who recently finished the youth group phase, I was always glad that the people in youth ministry were up front with their plans to leave. It didn’t surprise me when they left because they were honest and up front with what they thought their future plans were all along. We knew what that “season” was from the start. We weren’t shocked when we saw that season drawing to a close. Then we had a big celebration at the end too.

    I would also encourage keeping in touch after the youth minster leaves. It shows that the relationships actually meant something to you at the time. Send a text or a Facebook message here or there for a little while. If you are able to visit once in awhile, that could be nice too.


    1. Kelsey – Thanks for contributing! I love the idea of celebrating the end of a season of ministry. I think that kind of openness and closure is so important. Coming from a recent HS graduate, these words have a lot of authority on the topic.


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