10 Questions to Help You Decide Whether to Stay or Go

Jen Bradbury
April 6th, 2021

Youth workers believe in the importance of vocation. Often, we serve in churches because we feel called to do so. 

Yet, the reality is youth ministry is hard. On any given day, we might… 

…wonder if what we’re doing matters. 

…have a tough conversation with a young person or someone in their family. 

…deal with conflict. 

…talk to people who just don’t get it. 

…feel siloed, isolated, or separated from the rest of our congregation. 

…get an email from an angry parent. 

…have to deal with new health and safety protocols (Thanks Covid!). 

…have to figure out how to reach teens both in-person and online.

…struggle with attendance as we compete against the many things vying for our young   people’s time and energy. 

…have to lead an event we don’t fully believe in. 

…feel alone. 

…worry about our youth ministry (or church’s) diminishing budgets. 

…get called to a hospital bedside. 

…walk with teens through suffering. 

…struggle with burnout.  

Some days make us want to quit or at least start over somewhere else. When those days occur, here are 10 questions to help you decide whether to stay or go. 

  1. Do you still have dreams for your current ministry & do they fit your church’s vision? Unfulfilled dreams might be a sign that God is calling you to stay, especially if they align with your church’s vision. That said, when your dreams are out of step with your church’s, leaving might actually enable you both to flourish. 
  1. Do you have a healthy relationship with your colleagues? No relationship is perfect, but ministry is easier (and more effective) when you’re part of a team of like-minded leaders. To be clear, though, it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with your colleagues and still not want to hang out with them on a Friday night.  
  1. Does your senior pastor support you? Support from your senior pastor doesn’t mean that you always agree (In fact, I might argue that the ability to vocalize differing viewpoints is actually a sign of a healthy relationship!). It simply means you trust that if a parent or parishioner reaches out to them with a concern, they’re going to have your back. 
  1. Do you have a supportive leadership core outside of your senior pastor? It’s not enough for your senior pastor to support you. You also need a team outside of that to do the same. Without a supportive leadership core (colleagues, board, parents, and volunteers), your ministry will flounder.  
  1. How well is your ministry integrated into the life of the church? Integration looks different in various contexts but be careful if you’re constantly being siloed. While this might at first seem like unlimited freedom, it’s incredibly unhealthy for you and your teens, all of whom need to be connected to the larger body of Christ.    
  1. Are you being fed? While people and places outside your ministry setting can certainly nurture your faith, it’s best if you’re not only contributing to the spiritual health of other people in your congregation but also being fed by them, perhaps through small groups or weekly worship.   
  1. How do you describe your church to friends who don’t attend it? While it’s important to be able to “vent” about the hard aspects of ministry, pay attention to how you talk about your church to “outsiders.” When you start saying more negative things than positive ones about your church, it might be time for you to go. 
  1. Is ministry life-giving or draining? No job is perfect. No job is easy all the time. No job leaves you smiling every day. That said, ministry should – at least at times – be life-giving. If you’re consistently frustrated, losing sleep, or depressed because of your work, it might be time to step into a different ministry setting. 
  1. Would you be better off elsewhere? Since there is NO perfect church, don’t simply trade one set of problems for another. If you’re leaving an unhealthy culture, make sure you’re going to a healthy one. If you’re in an unhealthy place when you leave, get healthy before starting a new gig. Fix the problems that start with you so that you don’t bring them with you. 
  1. Do you feel a sense of release? If you’re feeling an ongoing (not just one-time) sense that your current ministry might be drawing to a close, it might be a sign that God is calling you elsewhere. This is particularly true if your spouse, kids, (or, if you’re single, close friends) are also sensing the same. 

Often, whether to stay or go is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make in ministry. No one can tell you what to do. But each time I’ve faced this decision, these 10 questions have helped me discern whether to stay or go. They’ve also enabled me to trust my call to youth ministry – even when the context changes. 

For more on calling and vocation, check out Jen’s new novel: Called: A Novel About Youth Ministry Transition. (https://theyouthcartel.com/product/called-a-novel-about-youth-ministry-transition/)

Jen Bradbury

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of Called: A Novel about Youth Ministry Transition (The Youth Cartel), The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughters, Hope & Kendall, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.