This column originally appeared in the Journal of Student Ministries [now defunct].
I bought into the myth. The myth that a vital, thriving ministry to youth, college students and young adults would draw families into an aging church. Youth don’t have money to tithe, and young adults just don’t tithe. But their families bring money. And more people.
To a church past its 125th anniversary, in a neighborhood past the rapid suburban growth, increasing in average age, money, people and vitality are important for survival.
Once that myth wrapped its loving arms around me, filling the role of youth pastor seemed to be the most important role to birthing a new day in that church. The future of the church sets itself on your shoulders, and it’s off to the races.
When I started at the church, three students had just graduated high school. My first year, four graduated.
As we entered the next year, I knew 5 students would be graduating at years’ end, leaving a small group of students still in the ministry. I knew that it would be my last unless something changed.
What did I do? I worked harder. I spent more hours on things that weren’t in my job description, hoping those ministries could either become part of my job or result in fruitful growth that would perpetuate my current job description.
My job was 15-20 hours a week during the school year. I was also in my first year of seminary. And I was single. With no reason to be home, I worked late into the evenings, just trying to make something happen.
It started with the young adult ministry. I laid out a vision, shared with the young adults and the church, set a start date, invited other churches to be involved. The pastor was excited: he had a college-age son, so the ministry would attract him to the church. Church leadership was excited. The first night we had five young adults. Over the weeks that followed, we had a dozen young adults show their faces. It was great. They said it was just what they needed. It lasted a few months, but I was the only one sensing the call to lead, and I burned out.
Check back tomorrow for Part II.