Habsburgs: Building a Legacy in youth ministry

August 22nd, 2017

On my recent holiday to Austria, I had the chance to explore the history of the Habsburg empire. Although not always as famous as the French, Spanish or English monarchies, the Habsburgs managed to build an empire that spanned almost 700 years leading all the way up to the events of World War I.

What impressed me most on my little history tour was how the Habsburgs managed to have such a strong and thriving empire. They controlled at various times the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Croatia, Portugal, Spain and many other areas off and on. And they did this mostly through relationships. The Habsburgs were first and foremost diplomats. They built relationships and treaties and often settled them by marrying off a member of the family to all the major kingdoms of the world. It often established peace when a family concerned about preserving their legacy would marry to avoid any land disputes or wars. Because of the peace via marriage, the Habsburgs maintained they were often able to spend their resources less on military and more on culture, arts and education providing us today with incredible architecture and museums throughout Europe.

What it Means to Have a Legacy in Ministry

At over twelve years in youth ministry, I am starting to look at what it means to have a legacy in ministry. When most youth ministers tend to move on or drop out after a few years and you find yourself the only one of your peers still doing it you start to question why you are doing it and if you are just slow to figure things out. You can only hear the “So when are you going to become a real pastor?” line so many times before you start to wonder if you should.

For some moving on it is the natural progression and I am grateful that many of today’s pastors got their start in youth ministry and still have a heart for it. But for those of us still here we must look long and hard at why and what for. Youth ministry will always be challenging, always keeping me on the edge of my seat, always draining my time, efforts, relationships and energy so it is important that I understand what difference it really makes for me to stay in it.

Relationships: The Legacy Worth Leaving Behind

Looking at the Habsburgs example I believe that relationships are the legacy worth leaving behind. For most of us in youth ministry, we will always be combatting the “Insert former youth worker here did this thing that was so successful and we should definitely bring it back 20 years later” mentality. Sometimes I laugh when I speak to youth workers who have taken over at churches I used to serve at and have them ask me if it’s a good idea to do something I did a decade ago. The short answer is probably not. It is flattering to think people thought I had a good idea back then and want to try and recreate it, but re-enactments are not the same thing as a legacy.

The truth is I know what I want my legacy in ministry to be and 12 years in I am already getting to see it. It is in the youth I was lucky enough to walk alongside who are now doing so many incredible things. Over my time in ministry, I have watched my youth go on to become incredible people of faith, letting their beliefs that I got to help shape lead them into positions as scientists, doctors, lawyers, missionaries, pastors, worship leaders and, for a few unlucky ones, youth pastors. My Facebook feed is full of pictures and posts of weddings, graduations, baby showers, travels, protests, promotions and glimpses into the lives of the people I have been able to do ministry with over the years. Now that I live here in London I have even had the extra blessing of getting to host a few of them as they branch out and see the world too!

I am amazed at how quickly a program, curriculum, fundraiser or event can change after we move on from a ministry. Sometimes I wonder if I ever made any meaningful impact at all. Did anything I say or do actually matter if it is so easily replaced? It is in these times when grace seems to find me with a letter, message, phone call or email from a former youth or leader just reflecting on the times we shared or what they are up to now and I remember that it was so worth every moment of it!

When I think about most of the characters we hear about in the Bible I wonder what they think their legacy is. I imagine Paul carried immense pride in Timothy, Barnabas, Silas and so many others that he got to train in ministry. I am sure John the Baptist looked out on his disciples as they left him and followed Jesus and was glad.

[bctt tweet=”If we want to preserve a legacy we do it through the lives we touch.” username=”ys_scoop”]

You see, the truth is that if we want to preserve a legacy we do it through the lives we touch. If we want that legacy to be eternal we bring them to a relationship with someone who will never leave them, never forsake them, and will walk with them long after we are gone. Someday in heaven, I hope I get to hear the stories of all the people who were impacted by the people I worked with. I am so excited to see my legacy played out in the lives I touched who went on to do some incredible things because ultimately the relationship we shared was with Jesus.

Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.


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.