You’ve already written, signed and dated the letter. The Board of Elders have read and accepted your letter of resignation and within a few days you receive a written response outlining in detail your transition out of the youth ministry. Now you find yourself standing before the congregation on a Sunday morning just minutes after the Senior Pastor closed the service in prayer about to make your “announcement.” With your wife by your side, a written statement in your hand, and a slight case of nervousness you announce to everyone that you are leaving the youth ministry at [your church name] because God is calling you to something or somewhere else.
As youth workers and youth pastors we have all faced this difficult task of leaving a ministry; and it never seems to get easier. The easy part of making the transition is the logistics—making sure the teens personal contact information is up to date and all important files are current; such as a budget, medical release forms, etc. This is the logistical stuff.
But what about the relationships you’ve built with the teens and their parents? The hardest part of making a transition is how it affects us as youth worker, as well as the teens and their families emotionally.So how do we make the transition a smooth one? What do you do when one of your students buries his head in your shoulder with tears pouring from his eyes and he’s pleading with you not to leave? It’s moments like those that rip our hearts out and bring us to the edge of changing our minds about leaving. Then we are quickly reminded it’s not our will, but God’s will that we’re following.
I won’t promise you I’ll have any one proven method. I’m not offering a youth worker’s guide on the topic of facing the emotions of your transition. What I am providing is my own experience and how God has used me to make those transitional times just a little easier.
Be honest and open – I have met many youth pastors/workers that kept their change in venue a secret from the teens and their families for their “emotional protection.” Then within a few weeks of leaving they decide to tell the teens and it’s like dropping a bomb in a crowded city square. In one situation my wife and I knew several months before making our final decision that God was speaking and leading us in another direction. After spending time in prayer we decided to share with our students our heart. So at a Wednesday evening meeting during our prayer time, I let the teens know that God had placed in our hearts a new calling and that we were praying seeking God’s will. I not only wanted my students to know the truth, but I also wanted them to know how to pray for our ministry. We wanted to include them in the process. We wanted them to know God was calling us to go, where we were being called, and what would happen when we arrived.
From the very beginning we were honest; we were real. Over those next several months we kept the lines of communication open. Anytime there was a change or progress was made, we made it a point to once again include our students in the process and made it a matter of prayer for the entire group. By the time my wife and I knew God was, without a doubt, moving us on to another ministry our students took the news better then the elder board. Sure tears were shed, but our students learned over those months from prayer, the teaching of God’s Word, and honesty to accept God’s will in the life of the Fords'.
Youth ministry is also about building solid relationships not only with your students, but their parents as well. Over those months of praying, searching and waiting we met with the parents and shared the same information with them as we did with their sons and daughters. We could have easily planned and scheduled a parents meeting at the church, tried squeezing it in at the end of a morning service as everyone is shaking hands, or called them on the phone. Instead we chose to meet the parents in their homes. By including the parents from the beginning, we provided them with the truth of our ministry and gave them the information needed to not only support their son or daughter, but also know how to pray for the teens, the leadership, and us.
Does Jesus give us an example? Absolutely! In Matthew 16:21 Jesus predicts His death for the first time, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” The phrase “from that time on” marks a turning point in Christ’s ministry. Before His trial and crucifixion,“Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go.” Jesus was preparing them for what was about to happen. There was going to be some major changes in His ministry, and Jesus held nothing back from His disciples. Jesus told His disciples three important points. First, He told them He was leaving; second, He told them where He was going; and third, He told them what would happen when He arrived.
I don’t want you to misunderstand; God’s timing is very important. You don’t want to jump the gun. If God has only knocked but has not opened the door, then sharing with your students at this point may premature. Ask God to reveal to you the right time. We must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. When Jesus revealed the life-changing news to His disciples, you can be sure the timing was perfect.
It is important that we be honest with our students, adult leaders, and parents by including them in the process when God calls us to “go.” Remember you’ve worked hard to build godly relationships based on truth and respect with your students. By keeping things a secret to “emotionally protect” your students, you will only cause emotional pain and make your transition more difficult. Making the transition from one ministry to the next doesn’t have to be difficult. When making the transition there are many steps that need to be taken, but it begins with being honest and open.