From the LYWB.com team: It’s our fifth birthday here on the blog. To celebrate we are featuring the "best of" the blog all month. This post on leaving youth pastors sure got you talking. With 98 comments, it’s clear that many of you have felt the sting of a leaving youth pastor.
As part of the research phase for Lies Young Women Believe, I surveyed approximately 1,000 young women from across the country. I interviewed many of those young women in small groups over coffee in living rooms just like yours and mine. During those interviews, one issue consistently evoked more emotion (specifically tears!) than any other issue. Any guess what it was?
Leaving youth pastors.
We talked about dating. We talked about daddies. We talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly of female friendships. We even got into a heated debate or two about cultural issues, but nothing evoked a more emotional response than the topic of youth pastors who leave.
As a youth worker myself, I was a little floored by this discovery. But the sixteen-year-old version of me wouldn’t be. When I was sixteen, my youth pastor left my church to become a church planter in a different state. I was devastated. I cried for months. More than ten years later that incident remains one of the most painful things that has ever happened to me.
Satan used that pain as an open door to lie to me about my faith and myself. Our focus groups confirmed that he has done the same for many of you. Letting those lies go unchecked can wreak havoc on your spiritual life. As we talk about the church this month, I feel compelled to tell you what I wish I had known as a student facing the pain caused by a leaving youth pastor. More importantly, as I think about the tears you may have shed or the ones you may shed in the future when your spiritual advisor leaves, I desperately want you to understand God’s truth.
Your youth pastor is not your connection to God.
Nancy and Dannah address this very lie in Lies Young Women Believe:
Your youth pastors and leaders are important spiritual leaders in your life, but we have access to God through Christ and Christ alone. Bible scholars call this "the priesthood of believers" (see 1 Pet. 2:9). In Old Testament times, God appointed certain men as priests. They led the people of Israel in worship and offered prayers and sacrifices on behalf of God’s people. Today, Christ is our High Priest. By His death on the cross, He made a complete sacrifice for our sin and invites us to come directly into God’s presence through our relationship with Him. "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:5–6).
It’s great to have an awesome youth pastor (or youth pastor’s wife or volunteer youth leader) who challenges you in your walk with Christ. But it is so important for you to realize that that person is not your connection to God. Jesus alone serves that function. Don’t let a leaving youth pastor sever your connection to God.
A leaving youth pastor provides an opportunity to draw closer to God.
Sometimes due to moral failure or strife in our churches, our youth pastors leave under extremely painful circumstances. Other times we simply lose the opportunity to regularly see someone we dearly love and want to spend time with. The resulting emotion is often a broken heart. God has a specific promise for us when our hearts are broken.
Psalm 34:18 promises, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
God presses in to us when our hearts are broken. He doesn’t run from our pain; He runs toward us in the midst of it. If you are facing a leaving youth pastor, take the opportunity to draw closer to God. Press into His Word with new fervor. Use the time you are accustomed to spending learning from your youth pastor to seek God yourself through prayer and Bible study. Intercede for your youth pastor and his family as well as for your church and youth group during the transition.
Seize the opportunity to step up to the plate.
A leaving youth pastor inevitably leaves a void. But ministry must go on. Ask yourself what you can do to keep the wheels of your youth ministry turning until a new youth pastor is found. Can you head up the praise team? Can you be in charge of loading worship lyrics into the computer for weekly worship? Can you lead a group of other students to welcome visitors? Can you volunteer to teach the lesson a time or two or to find others who are willing to teach? There is probably a long list of responsibilities that were typically handled by your youth pastor. Those things still need to be done. Don’t sulk about the way things are; take the opportunity to minister to others and cast a new vision for your group.
Don’t take your ball and go home.
Many of the young women I spoke to explained that because of a leaving youth pastor, they left their youth groups or the church altogether. This is a clear example of why Satan takes advantage of situations where a youth pastor leaves by lying to us. Reacting to your hurt over a leaving youth pastor by dropping out of your church or youth group is simply the wrong decision.
Dannah writes about this very truth in LYWB:
Having been through this experience, I understand your hurt! Still, you can’t blame anyone for the choices you make about church. We are each accountable for our own actions and reactions. You can’t blame your youth pastor for any choice you may make to disconnect from the Body of Christ.
God’s family works best together. You need them, and they need you. No matter how many bad experiences you may have in church-and we know you will have them because Satan hates the church and is always attacking-the best place for you to grow, serve, and be discipled is in a local church body (Lies Young Women Believe, 122).
When we face pain like that caused by a leaving youth pastor, sometimes truth can be difficult to hear. I imagine that if someone had sent me the above list of truths when my youth pastor left, I would have been tempted to try to ignore it like a kid sticking his fingers in his ears. My pain in that season felt very real, and as a result I felt justified in acting out in lots of ways that hurt my faith and hurt others. I hope you will choose to respond differently. If you’re facing a leaving youth pastor, I challenge you to mediate on God’s truth, respond by trusting Him and loving His church, and be thankful that you’ll never have to face a leaving Jesus.