I know you are awesome. In fact everyone at church confirms this to be true. At this point is becoming a conviction that by limiting your gifts to the realms of student ministry would be a crime. Numbers don’t lie and your ministry has exploded under your leadership and you are ready to proclaim the word to the masses! But before you jump ship in order to follow “God’s Call” to become the next church planter mega success, let me share a few words of caution . . .
Your amazing ministry was actually built by somebody else.
For 99% of youth workers the size of their student ministry is a simple ratio to the adult attendance in big church. An average youth worker should have about 10% attendance in their total student ministry (middle and high school) compared to the adults in church. An above average youth worker will have 10% in just their high school group, and a great youth worker will have anything above 15% in their high school group. Where do you stack up?
If you do the math, most of the premiere youth ministries out there are part of an amazing and healthy total church system. The youth workers who run these ministries are amazing, but their numbers are rarely in the 10% range. But when you have 100 students in your youth service, you can easily forget that these 100 students are not necessarily there because you are so amazing, but because you are part of an entire system that is doing pretty good ministry.
Even if you are part of the 1% of youth workers who’s ministries are dwarfing the adult population of your church, your salary, your resources, your ability to do what you do is predicated on the larger church investing in you and in student ministry. Leading a ministry is very different from leading an entire church.
Being a strong communicator is not all to being a pastor.
I can’t tell you the amount of youth workers I have run into who are so impressed with their own communication skills. They love the Word, they love preaching the Word, and it is obvious that the students in their ministries love listening to them preach the Word!
If these guys could simply turn down the dramatic lighting in their youth rooms a bit and see the actual faces of students as they are subjugated to long sermons miles above their heads they may have a different conclusion.
But again, on the off chance that you are the 1% of amazing student ministry communicators and can capture students attention, deliver God’s word and are blown away by the way God is moving in their lives, please know that being a strong communicator is not all there is to being a pastor.
It is true that in our culture, we are fascinated by celebrities and if we are honest we too would like to be one. But being a compelling communicator is simply part of gift mix that is needed to lead a church. I have no idea where preaching the Word became the one and only in determining if you should lead a church, but it is a relatively new phenomena.
Before you take your amazing speaking talent on the road, spend a little more time talking to some veteran lead pastors. Ask them to share with you what they spend their time doing, what fires they have to put out, what crisis they are in the middle of, what funerals they have done this year, how they train and develop leaders, how they manage their budget, and how they handle conflict and disagreements within their congregation and within their staff. The task of preaching then comes out of this common life together, searching the scriptures for what God has to say to this community in this time and place.
This trajectory often sends strong leaders off course from the stars and into the quicksand.
When I think of all the church planters I know, the dozens and dozens of really gifted youth workers, preachers, and leaders who left their thriving church to hack it on their own, the overwhelming majority of them are barely afloat.
There is this dream of exponential growth until you are famous, but this is simply a dream. What almost always happens is that these amazing potential leaders and people of influence end up spending their 20′s and 30′s working with all their might to gain critical mass, only to have these young and idealistic people they have gathered move on as they have kids and the needs of their families can not be met by the struggling community that is still meeting in a cafeteria 5 years later.
This never ending revolving door of other 20 and 30 year olds never gets much more than 100 and seems to suck the life and passion out of these once idealistic leaders. By the time they are in their 40′s and should be major influencers in their churches, in their denominations, and in their communities, they are simply tired and worn out, and often looking for greener pastures as they seek to find jobs in or out of the church that they themselves can pay the bills.
Do you want more influence? Play ball in the system, deepen your character, wisdom, and connections so you can be groomed for the larger church world!
I genuinely believe that God has huge plans for some of the most gifted among my colleagues, and some of those huge plans include caring for and leading large ministries. The skills and character that is needed to do this is not easy to come by. And to leave the church system you are part of to lead it on your own is simply a recipe for disaster.
If some of these youth workers were a little more patient, and a little more humble and willing to simply stick around the institutional church in another position would provide amazing experience. When you spend your 30′s and even 40′s working on and developing your gifts and character as you serve as associate pastors, contribute to local and denominational networks, serve and care for the larger church, you will grow in stature and standing. And then when it is clearly a calling from God you will be ready to be the leader of a church. It won’t matter if it a big or small church because your ego will have been put in check as you have spent the last decade serving not trying to impress and grow.
I am sad watching some of my stellar youth pastor friends who should in places of great leadership and influence in this season of their ministry career, are now in their 40′s and are still struggling in their church plant trying to make ends meet and be viable.
There is a reason there is a corporate ladder. And there is a reason there is a church ladder. This is not a totally unspiritual reality. Think of all the great leaders in scripture. They were given huge dreams of who they were going to be for God and his Kingdom, then 10, 20, 40 years later with tons of character building they live into this dream. Don’t over spiritualized this truth. Play ball in the system, and play ball well!!
If your call is to go where there is no church and to reach people who have not been reached then do it.
But know that you will not be a mega church star, you will not be planting satellite campuses, you will not be a best selling author. You will simply be caring for a hundred or so people in a school gym until the end of time. If that is fine with you because you will be reaching the lost in some back woods part of our country where no other church is doing it, then you know it is your calling. If this doesn’t get your juices flowing, then keep being faithful to the place God has called you and consider the next step in the bigger dream God has placed in your heart.
If you are called by God to lead a church, then do the hard work, the years of service, character building and faithfully climb the church ladder to acquire the experience and wisdom that is needed to shepherd God’s people. Don’t short cut the system and church plant so you can lead before you are ready. Die to your visions of grandeur and exponential growth. Get fired up for caring for a small group of people who for some reason are not served by any other church in the area.
Pastoring is about serving and dying to ego. While many churches are planted out of ego, thankfully God uses the very thing that was supposed to build it, he uses to crush it!
If you are not ready to have your ego crushed, DON’T CHURCH PLANT!