The Reinvention of the Youth Worker

It was a curious request:  “After 20 years as a youth pastor, I’m feeling…,” he paused, a little embarrassed.  “…feeling the need to reinvent myself in youth ministry.  Can you help?” 

Something about the candor of this question shined a light on why so few youth workers stay in this business after the first 5 or 6 years: We fail to reinvent ourselves.

Most of us step into “professional” youth ministry with an abundance of time, adolescent sleep habits, and turbo-charged idealism, a combination that works beautifully for our first few years. Eventually though, the spouse, the baby, and years of required 8:00 a.m. church meetings put us on a crash course with this stage of youth ministry. Sadly, most don’t make the leap.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The folks I know who have stayed in the game for decades have done anything but do the same things the same way for twenty years running. All of them have found ways to “reinvent” themselves every 5 to 7 years, the pattern, incidentally, of the highly successful fast food chains that actually require a major remodel every 7 years.

The lesson shouldn’t be lost on those of us who believe we are called to stay in youth ministry beyond a single generation of kids:  Doing an amazing job at what we have been doing just won’t keep us in the game, at least not happily so. We need to find ways to reinvent ourselves.

But where do we start?

Start by Knowing Your Own Heart: What are those things you used to love doing that have now become more drain than joy?  You really can decide not to be present at every lock-in.  But you will have to reinvent yourself with a skill set that empowers a joyfully faithful team to carry those responsibilities.

Move to Knowing Your Story: This is the season to “listen to your life,” specifically by looking back over the key turning points in your own story in search of clues that might just point to what needs to unfold in your next chapter.

Consider Finding a Midwife or Two: Apart from meetings with my spiritual director, a “Quaker Clearness Committee” and with life coach Dan Webster (, I would be in the same place today as I was in 2002.

If you’re feeling a little crispy around the edges, maybe you just need a nap.  But maybe, this is a season to consider a little reinvention.  The longevity of your ministry and the collective depth and wisdom of our profession just might depend on it.

Originally written for Group Magazine