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.