30 Jun, 2015 Chapter 13
TRANSITIONING OUT OF YOUTH MINISTRY WITH STYLE
By Ps Daniel Chua | Lead Pastor of The City, Singapore
On 4th November 2000, after a season of praying and waiting, Cornerstone’s Youth Ministry, Generations, was born. It started with about 40 teenagers, and at the first service, the Senior Pastor, Ps Yang gave a stirring message about how young people can transform the world. Since then, the Generations’ mission is to transform teenagers into passionate lovers of God.
Fast-forward eight and a half years, at a tearful service on the last Sunday of April 2009, I gave my final address to the Youth Ministry. By then, Generations had grown to about 400. In those eight years, we had seen more than 1500 pack into a hall for our big events, held a number of impacting youth camps and outreaches, and had multiplying cell groups. I had given my twenties to pioneering the youth ministry, and will be passing the baton to a team of home-grown leaders.
Almost all kinds of transitions are tricky to navigate. I believe a lot of the lessons we learn from Youth Ministry will help prepare and define us for the next season of life. So, in the following pages, I will share candidly about the lessons I have learnt on my journey and hopefully they will be useful pointers for YOUR journey.
Creating a Culture that Facilitates a Smooth Transition
1. Building a people-empowering culture
… youths see themselves as emerging leaders and recognise that it is a matter of time before they take on leadership positions.
i. Having a strong leadership culture
You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. (2 Tim 2:2, NLT)
All through my leadership, I’ve made it a point to instil in the young people the belief that they will one day become leaders. Adopting the 2 Tim 2:2 ethos, we had the 15-year-olds learning how to teach the 12-year-olds. With a strong leadership culture, older youths are given the responsibility and empowerment to disciple the younger ones. In this way, the youths see themselves as emerging leaders and recognise that it is a matter of time before they take on leadership positions.
ii. Distributing authority to younger leaders
Give your endorsement to the younger leaders to take authority over some ministry areas. This creates a platform for them to take ownership of that which has been placed in their care. Distributed authority creates avenues and opportunities for younger leaders to grow and build confidence. One way I have done this was to give the younger leaders some airtime on Sundays so that they become more visible. This visibility meets both objectives of empowering the leader, as well as getting the youths to recognise them.
A caveat to note: Make sure that your ministry is not built on the charisma or gifting of a single person. Almost all our young leaders have served in one way or another in the Ministry of Helps in their teens. For years, they would be the first to arrive and the last the leave, making sure that the toilets are cleaned, the space is set up and the environment is conducive for the youths to experience God. They did everything without complaints.
There is an unspoken rule of thumb in Generations that the route to greatness starts with being faithful in the mundane.
...be intentional in identifying younger leaders who will take the ministry forward into the next decade. A leader must always plan for succession.
iii. Creating an atmosphere of honouring leaders
Honouring is a form of empowering. Recognising the effort they put in tells your leaders that they are appreciated. Honouring also reminds the current leaders of their responsibility to continually invest into the younger leaders. With the habit of honouring leaders, the younger leaders will come to recognise that they are set up for future leadership roles.
2. Making the Announcement
I talked about the impending transition a year prior to my departure. This helped prepare the youth ministry for their new leader and vice versa. Giving them ample time before the transition actually happens comes with many benefits. For the youths, they understand that youth ministry is transitional even for them, who will eventually graduate to the young adulthood. In preparing them early for the transition, the youths have time to adjust to the different style of leadership and are also prepared to respect the new leader when he addresses them. If all these taken care of, it tells them that they are important and they will not be left without a shepherd. For the new leader, the long runway will give him enough time to start interacting with his team and the youths in his role. It will be a valuable head start for him to start laying foundations.
The Process of Transition
As John Maxwell rightly said, true success only comes when there is a successor (paraphrased). My process started two years before the actual transition. One of the first things to do is to be intentional in identifying younger leaders who will take the ministry forward into the next decade. A leader must always plan for succession. When the next leader is identified, the second step is to build a team around him.
The “criteria” for the next Youth Pastor:
– The Church pastoral team must have agreement on his appointment.
Do the small things. You'd never know how far they actually go.
– He must have the witness of the pastoral team, and the respect of his peers and the youths.
– He will not try to fit into my shoes. He should have the courage to be different.
Spend time with your leaders, especially if you are handing over a large youth ministry. Assure them that they will do great by building on the foundation that has been laid. Help them to see that our ceiling is their floor and there is much potential for growth.
I also got the youth leaders to shadow-lead by pairing them with the older leaders. Through shadow-leading, they are placed in pastoral roles and are exposed to caring for and shepherding the flock. They are also given opportunities to handle complex relational issues. A point to remember: be mindful that they have different talents and passions and be intentional to pair them up with people who share similar passions. Know that this is part of distributing authority for discipleship and that you won’t be able disciple them fully on your own.
Finally, in this process of transition, know that there will be great hits, but there will be misses too. For the hits, give them the credit, and for the misses, take the blame. Always set an example for your leaders to keep trying and keep growing.
Lessons that we can learn in transition
1. It is the small things that matter.
At the end of the day, the youths won’t remember the successes on the big days, or the great sermons you delivered. They remember their first cup of Starbucks, or that you walked through the crowd to give them a pat on the back, or just goofing around with them. Those could be the most affirming things they have received all week.
Here’s a story from my experience. A 14-year-old boy started backsliding due to the bad company he kept. One day, I met him for coffee and tried to counsel him, challenging him with what he wants to do with his life. After that meeting, he became more regular at youth group and eventually started serving as a cell leader. At my final address, he gave me a letter, sharing with me that at that time of the meeting, he was asked to join a gang, but because of the belief and the challenge I issued to him, he didn’t.
Do the small things. You’d never know how far they actually go.
2. Know that you will not be remembered
I get to meet the youths whom I used to lead every year at Ignite Conference. In 2010, I met this girl (who’s from the youth ministry I pioneered) in the lift. By then I had left for about 1.5 years. I asked her what church she was from and after she answered, she returned me the question. It was then I realised that we will not be remembered and it is not about leaving a legacy for myself. What made me proud as a leader was that the current leaders of the youth ministry that I left behind are reproducing.
There is great joy in releasing others to reproduce. Do not hold on to your position so that others can step into their destiny and start reproducing for the kingdom.
3. Expect and embrace the change
Expect paradigm shifts while you navigate through transition. The Holy Spirit will begin to strip off all the excess baggage accumulated from your previous assignments and start downloading new mindsets He wants you to embrace for your next assignment. He will also lead you to forge new partnerships with people you never expected to work with. It may seem confusing at times, but in this season, I have learned to be slow to speak, be quick to listen, pray a lot and clarify your intentions whenever necessary.
The attitude of the leader during transition
1. See yourself as a steward entrusted with a ministry
When I first started Youth Ministry, I had no experience in teaching or preaching and leadership – all I had was zeal and ambition. I didn’t see myself as a very gifted or talented leader. But I had vision and a lot of drive. I always saw myself as a one-talent person and I’ve been faithful with that one talent. It is only after years of hard work and through the grace of God that my talent multiplied.
When you leave, armed with your experience and good work, understand that in the first place, these lives you are leading belong to Christ and to the Senior Pastor who have entrusted them to you. But if you are faithful, you will be fruitful. The attitude is very important.
Regardless of the ministry you are moving into, having the attitude of stewardship will keep your gaze and focus on the God and not yourself, or your gift.
2. Hold loosely to the ministry and always honour your Senior Pastor
Transitions are not transitions until you let go. Have a releasing heart and believe that God will take care of them, and of you. As we have taught our youths to honour their leaders, honour your Senior Pastor for the opportunities you have had leading the Youth Ministry, and for releasing you to fulfil your destiny.
Finally, know that your identity is not determined by the success of failure of your ministry but who you are in Christ.
The temptation to hold on and contribute to the youth ministry tends to be strong after you leave. To combat this, remind yourself that your role has evolved, and there are now other ways to value add.
You are now the coach of the leaders. Learn to be reassuring, lend a listening ear and speak and advise only when they ask. Never try to lead the ministry in proxy and always defer to the current leaders. In their successes, rejoice with them. Avoid imposing your ideas and views as their previous leader but trust the Holy Spirit to lead them, having confidence “that He who began a good work in [them] will carry it on to completion”. The Holy Spirit is more committed to the success and growth of the ministry than you are. In short, understand that you are dispensable and trust the leadership of the Holy Spirit more than yourself and the new team of inexperienced leaders.
What do you do when you are concerned for them:
– Pray unceasingly for them
– Be a cheerleader for them
– Encourage them with positive affirmation
Let God take care of the rest.
Be a champion for the new team and speak highly of the youths and leaders to other pastors.
Personally, I keep the 5Rs in mind whether I’m in the ministry or transiting out of it:
– Relationships – the small things matter
– Reach people with the gospel
– Reproduce yourself
– Raise workers for the harvest
– Release them into positions of leadership and authority
Through prayer and practice, God will certainly allow your work to bear fruit.
Something to reflect upon
1. What is your succession plan? Do you have one?
2. Are you building YOUR OWN ministry or one around a team that will outlast you?
3. Have you paid attention to the little things as your grow your ministry?
4. In what way are you honouring your Senior Pastor as your lead your ministry? Do you defer to his authority and leadership? Is the ministry your own?