This year marks a milestone in my ministry that I frankly never thought I would see. When my church graduates our seniors this year, we will be graduating a class that I met as 1st graders.
As I finish my 11th year and enter my 12th here at Calvary Bible Church, I am astounded by how wonderfully blessed I have been to be a part of this family. I am also dreadfully aware that my tenure here is well outside the average for those of us in Student Ministry. In my research, I have seen the average tenure of student/youth pastors is 18 to 24 months. Frankly, exact numbers don’t matter; what matters is that here in New England I have witnessed first hand the revolving door of youth ministry taking place all around me. The other thing that matters is that students suffer when yet another adult enters and then promptly exits their lives so quickly.
Why does any of this matter? The simple answer is that longevity in ministry promotes ministry stability. I have watched these young people grow up, and, more importantly, they are aware that I have done so as well. Our ministry is filled with a sense of security, certainty, and relational living that I never saw in my first 7 years of ministry when I was the floating youth guy. These students know I am here for them no matter what they experience. They know everything about me.
More importantly, however, they know everything about my dedication to the Savior, which is what allows me to be as completely dedicated to my family, His church, and them as ministers of the Gospel. On top of this, the people of our community see a minister of the Gospel who is committed to serving our city as a resource, cheerleader, counselor, and even a moral conscience when needed. What if this kind of ministry longevity became the norm instead of the exception? I personally dream of a day when it does!
My desire to see this become a reality has caused me to evaluate the past 11 years and try to identify how I have been able to remain in a role I pray to continue in for years to come. My hope is that others who are called to do so can pursue this longevity as the norm and not the exception. I have identified 5 keys that have contributed to the success He has given us in maintaining a “long haul” ministry.
- Personal Commitment to Longevity. As a minister in New England, I knew that if I accepted this call for anything less than 5 years I would never see great kingdom fruit. As my wife and I considered this call, we did so with a long-term view. We literally asked ourselves if we could see ourselves retiring from this position in 30 years. Once we determined that the answer was yes, we knew it was the move God had for us. This doesn’t mean we aren’t open to His call away from CBC but it does mean we aren’t looking at the want ads on a regular basis. When things get tough, as they sometimes do in ministry, we look back to our call here in 2001 as a reminder that we are here for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Knowing that we are called here for this extended season has helped us weather storms and has kept us focused on His plans instead of ours…in ways that I never thought possible.
- Personal commitment to spiritual growth, accountability, and transparency. I have been a ministry statistic because of my own personal pride, sin, and stupidity. In the late 90’s I worked for a parachurch outreach ministry where we had great success reaching into a local high school in the South. Unfortunately, along with this success came a slippery slope of compromise where “Rob” became the focus - instead of Christ – and ended in a tremendous fall. I had become so focused on doing things in my own strength that I started believing I didn’t need Christ. I eventually was forced to leave the ministry while the Lord hammered me back into shape. From this personal failing, I learned the valuable lesson that unless I am constantly growing in Christ, I have no business ministering in Christ’s name. Over the past 11 years, I have ensured that there are many wonderful men and women holding me accountable as I live transparently before them and my King. No area of my life is off limits to scrutiny because I never want to allow myself to slip away from my first love! Ministry longevity requires one to be first a sold out growing disciple of Jesus Christ!
- Staying focused on the “main thing” while constantly innovating. Over the years, our ministry has remained innovative and sharp simply because it has never used anything but the bible as its foundation. We have changed curriculum, programming approaches, and all the peripheral stuff but we remain committed to the call in Ephesians 4:11-16. Our mission is to equip ministers who contribute to the current generation of His church. A student in 1st grade right now knows that when they reach 7th grade, we will engage them in ministry by equipping (discipling) and empowering (training and giving authority) them to become the leaders of their ministry. They know they will have older mentors, peer mentors, and will be mentoring someone (because they themselves had someone). This knowledge sparks creativity along with a passion to live for Christ. In short, our ministry has become a vital part of the church, which leads to this kind of long-term investment because the leadership sees the value the ministry has in equipping the saints!
- A healthy relationship with my senior pastor. My senior pastor is my biggest cheerleader! It helps that he has been here 21 years now and thus understands the value of longevity. From the very start, he and I cultivated a relationship based on positional respect, personal respect, and a mutual commitment to open, honest communication. Over the years, we have become true ministry partners, teammates, and friends. I respect his position without question. I lift him up in prayer, carry burdens for him when I can, and serve alongside him on the elder board. In 11 years, we have had 2 major disagreements and no one but us knows what they were about because we used biblical principles resolve them between us. This doesn’t mean we don’t have different opinions or positions on things; it simply means we both understand the value of team ministry and, more importantly, we each respect the other’s position and call by God.
- Our Church leadership provides for our needs as a family. On top of a great relationship with my senior pastor, I am also blessed to serve with an elder board that understands how to care for their staff. Beyond the blessing of a salary that provides for our needs, they invest in my wife and me as a couple. They serve as mentors in our marriage, our parenting, and our lives in general. I am given the time off I need to care for my primary ministry, which is my family. Our ministry is supported with real money to accomplish our personal and ministry goals. Our church treats me as a valued member of the leadership team and not like a hired hand who is a baby sitter for their teenagers. There is no expectation that I will “grow out of” this phase. Rather, there is a hope I will be here for their grandchildren.
I’ll say it again: I am blessed and honored to serve at Calvary Bible Church and hope to do so for many years to come! I pray that senior pastors, elders, and youth pastors alike see this as encouragement. Senior pastors and elders, I implore you to evaluate how you view your youth pastor (or your worship leader, discipleship pastor, etc...). Are you setting them up to succeed or are you guaranteeing that you will be looking for a new one every two to three years? Prayerfully look at your pay packages, budgets, and expectations. Expect them to produce fruit but be sure to reward them for their efforts, because your church will reap eternal benefits as they invest in your students.
I ask my fellow youth pastors to prayerfully consider committing to a ministry of longevity. There are certainly some serving in youth ministry who will be called for short-term assignments and many who will be called on to other roles. To those that this applies to, I say thank you for your faithfulness; you need to go without guilt or reservation. Always remember our primary call is obedience to the Lord’s call, not to a position. Having said that, I also believe there are some who need to simply stay where they are. For those who are, I challenge you to stick it out, be committed to personal growth in Christ, develop great relationships with your pastor and elders, and keep challenging the younger portion of the current generation of the church to service and growth!