What I Learned from Leaving Youth Ministry



By Paul Martin

Up until recently I was what some people would have called “a lifer.” As far as youth ministry was concerned I had no other ambitions in life. I wanted to retire at some point from a youth ministry role and never have any other job to claim my time. That didn’t work out the way I imagined.

At age 45, after serving teenagers and families for almost two decades, I realized it was time to tap out. There were a lot of reasons that informed that decision, but those are for another post. After leaving my time working for the church, I found myself on the other side of the curtain. I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, while all the magic was happening, I wasn’t behind the scenes anymore.

It has been a jarring experience dropping my two daughters off for youth group instead of being there to greet them when they arrived. I found myself sending them to someone else to help them grow their faith. I had no idea what the next big event was. I confess, I was a little more than shell-shocked.

But God was good enough to me to let me land in safe waters. The youth ministry my daughters beg to go to – that’s right, they beg – is an amazing place, just like so many great youth ministries. They are welcomed and loved, cared for and challenged.

Here are my takeaways for learning to be a youth ministry parent.

Be That Guy (or Girl)

I remember so many times I met with parents as a youth pastor. The majority of them were great. Most parents just want to ask a question or get some help. I decided I wanted to be that kind of parent.

The first week after my daughters attended youth group, I went to the church website. I was shocked that the middle school page was completely blank. Blank, as in, there was the church header and footer with nothing in between. Not one word.

So I decided to be that guy – the type of parent that just wants some help. I emailed the youth director and gently pointed out that I couldn’t find anything on the site and was just curious about what happens in the ministry. It was great, and I learned a lot.

Don’t Be That Guy (or Girl)

I also remember some other times when parents would contact me. They were mad or frustrated, usually about something completely unrelated, and wanted to vent on someone. I decided I didn’t want to be that guy.

I realized after the fact about something happened at one of the youth meetings my daughters were in. It was a little tiff between one of my daughters and another student. Not a big thing, but pretty upsetting to my daughter.

I’ll admit, my feelings were all over the place. I could have called and vented. Instead, I chose to be patient. I waited until the next day, at a reasonable hour for youth workers, and called the director. I just wanted to make him aware of what my daughter reported and ask to see if he could help. This guy was gold. He said he actually wanted to talk to me and see what could be worked out.

Choose Your Path

What I learned in a few short months outside of youth ministry could probably fill several books. But here’s the best part of my story so far. I decided on a new role for myself as a youth ministry parent. I am a cheerleader.

I’ve seen so many amazing things happening in my family’s life because of my church’s youth ministry. We were in serious need after leaving a ministry with sore feelings, moving to another state and starting over again. My daughters really needed to feel some sense of stability and grounding. They needed to have fun and make new friends. This youth group did so much to help us. All I had to do was tell our story.

So that’s what I did. It started with a short, minute and a half conversation with the Senior Pastor. He asked me how I found the church, and I told him it was from a friend who said they had a welcoming youth group, but I also snuck in a couple of compliments while I was at it. It started something.

I’ve now written or called almost everyone on staff at the church. I’m the chief encourager. It’s a complete role shift for me. Instead of heading off problems in the ministry as the director, I can be a source of life for the leaders. I now realize there were parents like this in every ministry I served. I’m so thankful.