“I want to be a senior pastor, but to do that I have to do time as a youth pastor. So here I am.”
There were a couple dozen of us in the Intro to Youth Ministry class at Gordon College. The professor had led kicked off the semester by asking us to go around the room and share why we were taking the class; about half wanted to become youth pastors, the other half wanted to be better equipped volunteers in their church’s youth ministry programs. One of the last to answer the question gave the reply above.
You could have heard a pin drop. Later a bunch of us youth min career guys grumbled about it; we couldn’t believe he said it. The idea that someone would use youth ministry to get to something else just seemed offensive. The common response was to be disapproving of anyone who used it as a ‘stepping stone’ to other pastoral roles.
What’s funny to me, is that in hindsight I used youth ministry positions as a stepping stone for years and saw no contradiction in it. I just didn’t label it that way. I knew going into my previous churches, where I wore a variety of hats (youth pastor, children’s ministry director, small groups leader, janitor, and whatever else came along), that I was going to give them everything I had – but I never saw myself staying there until I retired. Why? Because I was building my experience so I could eventually be in a church large enough to focus just on youth ministry.
Meanwhile, now that I’m in my mid thirties, a lot of the guys who were my youth ministry peers a decade ago are now serving in other pastoral roles. I think they served their churches as youth pastors well, doing an amazing job with teens and their parents. But as they served, God called them into something different. And it’s a good thing.
What has changed is my view of the idea of the stepping stone being a bad thing. As opposed to my peer who viewed it as ‘doing time’ – as though student ministry is some sort of prison sentence he was stuck with – when viewed appropriately, stepping stones can represent a natural and appropriate progression and maturity into different phases of ministry life. For some that means transitioning into other roles. For others it means changing roles while still in the youth ministry world. And for others, it means growing in influence and effectiveness in the place they’ve been.