Is there a corporate ladder in student ministry?

October 29, 2012 — 11 Comments

What is the top of the youth ministry world? When will you have arrived? Is it about the number of students in your ministry? Is it about working at a particular church? Is it when you get to travel and speak? Is it when you get to speak at main stage for Youth Specialties?

Every career has a ladder, and student ministry is no different.

Let’s just take high school education as example. The basic corporate ladder goes something like this; substitute teacher, teacher’s aid, class room teacher, head of department, assistant principle, principle. Then if you have sights higher than that particular high school, assistant superintendent, and finally super indent.

But this isn’t the top of the ladder. From superintendent, there is an entirely different ladder to climb ending with, who knows, the governorship or even the president of the united states.

The crazy thing is that some people have absolutely no desire to be anything but an instructional aid. They know who they are and what they are gifted to do, and they fully live into it. One of my best middle school volunteer staff is this person. She is a total gift to her school and does her job with passion and grace.

On the other end of the spectrum there are people who are never satisfied with where they are and are continually looking toward the next thing, the higher rung. While ambition is actually a good thing, the dark side is that the overly ambitious person never gets to be fully satisfied. To spend your entire life climbing a ladder, being single minded in this pursuit, actually changes the way the brain works. If you spend your entire life in a state of pursuit, you won’t know what to do or how to feel once you have arrived. In order to find peace, one must continue to pursue, something, anything.

There is a Fine Balance:

We are all uniquely gifted and called into ministry. We don’t want our over-inflated ego taking us places we have no business going, nor do we want false humility to self sabotage the thing God might be percolating inside of us. If you are called to a particular rung on the ministry ladder and know it, love it, and are grateful for it, then settle in and do the good work that you have been called to do.

If you have a dream of something bigger and better in ministry then you have some work to do. All over scripture are stories like Joseph or David who have been given a larger vision of who they are then who they were. Both of them were insignificant, youngest brothers told that they would be people of power and influence. But both of them suffered some really dark days before that dream was realized.

I do think that God gives us a vision of who we are called to be. Sometimes our pride takes that too far, or our false humility shuts it down. But as we walk closer and closer with Jesus and he continues to mold and shape us, hopefully we can die to our pride, give up our false humility and be all that God has us to be.

The challenge is discerning if being all that means staying put or moving on. May God be gracious with you as you wrestle through that question.

11 responses to Is there a corporate ladder in student ministry?

  1. Great post! You’ve got me thinking about a lot of things.

  2. I feel the urge to go up the “ministry ladder” all the time! the problem is, how do i do it? where did i get this “become the boss of your boss to be successful” attitude?

    I’m the head youth leader at my church and i dont want to leave. . . there’s no place else to go. . . so i’m stuck wanting to go past the top of the ladder.

    Perhaps i should just die to the ambition.

  3. Great question. So what do you do? Shared a quote from Mike King’s Presence-Centered Youth Ministry book in a recent post: “Young people need youth workers who have God—rather than youth ministry—first and foremost in view.” That hit home to me. What is success in student ministry look like? Success is you and a student talking about God at a fast-food restaurant. Success is watching a student put Christ on in baptism. Success is the little stuff.

    I have noticed in my own journey with Youth Ministry 6.3 and my blog that I say, “If I could only _________” and then when ________ comes about I find myself dissatisfied.

    All that to say great thoughts bro.

  4. Interesting concept for sure. I think the “corporate ladder” of youth ministry can definitely have some negative effects, most notably in the aspect of kids who are looking for committed adults to invest in their lives for the long term. But I’ll be honest, it’s easy to wonder if I’m settling for less when I think about how my current job offers part time salary, limited health benefits, and no retirement plan. I’m investing in the hopes that that will change when God has prepared us for it, but I can’t help but wonder at times if the grass is greener elsewhere.

    Even so, as you well know I’m hoping and praying that God will keep me in student ministry for a good long while…even until retirement if He allows it. If He has greater plans in mind than that, I’ll be as ready as I can for Him to reveal it, but for now I just want to show love to kids.

    Now what we need is a part time youth ministry job that pays 50k a year with a full health plan and 403b! Any churches out there hiring for that? ;) j/k

  5. The problem is you look at ministry as “corporate” . It is not a business! Way too many churches have this corporate-business mentality. Feed the flock amoungst you and let God take care of the rest.

  6. Even for those who want to stay in youth ministry for their whole career, I think we still have the “corporate ladder” mentality, whether we verbalize it or not. I think all of us (again, whether we say it or not) have an idea of what the “big time” is, whether it’s a bigger church, bigger budget, or a really great facility.

    Great post!

  7. Great post!

    I agree there is definitely a corporate ladder within youth ministry, and no matter how much we repeat the mantra “numbers and status don’t matter” deep down we still fight the voice that says it does.

    What about taking one more step back and looking at the corporate ladder within vocational ministry? Unfortunately youth ministry is used as a stepping stone, or lower rung on that ladder to advance someone up that ladder, toward other associate or senior pastor roles. Why have we made those roles more important than the youth worker role? Just a thought…

  8. I absolutely love this questions of: when are we satisfied? and when do we stay put or move on?

    These two books really help me answer these complex questions about youth ministry calling:
    Leaders Who Last
    Moving On—Moving Forward: A Guide for Pastors in Transition

    I love this conversation because it is so complex and strictly deals with one’s calling and mission while trying to provide for a family.
    I think the top of the youth ministry world is when you can honestly wake up in the morning kiss your wife/husband, eat breakfast, and go into the church office with a huge smile on your face 70% of the time.

  9. I think sometimes the desire to go up the ladder for us is really a desire for influence and a desire to see our great ideas come to life. just because we’re youth guys doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas about small groups or vision casting. sometimes we just want to matter more than we think we do. it’s all tainted by a desire for self.
    What bugs me is when I hear seminary kids say that they want to use youth min as a stepping stone to something bigger. i could punch them in the face!

What do you think?

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