aging out of youth ministry

I’m reading a book on church leadership and the author (a senior minister) made a statement early in the book that I disagree with. I’ll let you read the quote first, then I’ll give my quick thoughts.

“In the spring of 2001, I sensed God’s call to lead a church. The voice of God’s Spirit was clear, and to be honest, it really made sense. I was starting to age out of youth ministry and (like multitudes of youth pastors before me) the next professional step was to seek an associate or senior pastor position. I clearly felt that God was leading toward a senior pastor position.” (emphasis added by me)

As a youth minister who sees myself involved with youth ministry until I am no longer able to minister, I have a hard time believing that it is possible to “age out of youth ministry.” This statement is even harder for me to believe when I consider the author was in his thirties at this point in his ministry career. I am in my early thirties, but I do not feel that I’m aging out of youth ministry. In fact, I feel that I’m a better youth minister now than I was when I was 22 and fresh out of college.

By saying a minister can “age out of youth ministry,” does the author mean youth ministry is for the immature minister who is not ready to do “real” ministry? Does it mean that when you are old enough, you can handle more ministry responsibility? Or could it mean that youth ministry is not as important as the next-step ministries you should aspire to? Maybe it means that as you get older, you cannot relate to students anymore. Or it could mean that if you do well as a youth minister (let’s not even start that conversation of determining who is a “successful” youth minister) then you deserve to get moved up the minister ladder. Then again, it could not be saying any of these things.

I have known many ministers who wanted to be senior ministers, but no one would hire them without the right experience. So what do they do? They work as a youth minister until they get the “required” number of years of ministry experience, then they move to what they really want. I know others who have had their passion for students morph into a passion for another area of ministry.

I do not think every person who starts as a youth minister needs to remain a youth minister until they retire. If this was the case, we would have very few senior ministers or associates or discipleship ministers. But I do not think you can “age out of youth ministry.” If you have the passion, desire, and calling to work with students then it does not matter how old you are. But, at the same time, I do not believe you can simply “age out of youth ministry.”

Where do you stand?

Do you feel too old to be a youth minister?

Do you think it is possible to age out of youth ministry? Or are there other, stronger factors that lead to that decision?


4 responses to “aging out of youth ministry

  1. I’ll turn 30 in 6 months, and have no plans on leaving youth ministry…ever. I plan to stay in it until I’m forced out to by my nursing home caregiver. After that I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I sure as heck know it’s not being a senior minister!

  2. Well, I turn 40 in a couple of months. I am a MUCH more effective youth pastor now than at 22. I’m not as cool, I’m not in the “big brother” or even the “cool uncle” mode with my students. I’m in full on “dad” mode. But it works well. I love Christ, love my students, and love their parents. I’ve had several mentors who “aged out” tell me to stay put, that leaving was the biggest mistake they made, and that they’ve not had ministry effectiveness like they did when they worked with students. I think you nailed it Mike. There is no “right” plan for all of us. Be faithful where God has you today, and trust Him for tomorrow. Thanks for the post!

  3. I’ll be 35 next month, have 4 kids of my own (the oldest of which hits middle school next year), & have spent the last 11 years in youth ministry. When I was in college, I railed against the stepping stone mentality. “Youth ministry is not just getting some experience until you’re old enough to do real ministry.” It made me mad to hear of guys that viewed their student ministries that way.

    Having said that, one of the best things that ever happened to me in ministry (and consequently happened to my ministry itself) was preaching weekly while our church had no sr. pastor. It was great for the church, too – they began to think differently about students because they heard a student ministry mentality every week for a a year and a half.

    I still hate the idea of young guys biding their time in youth ministry, thinking they’ll ‘earn their stripes’ and get to do “real” ministry someday with adults… but some of the best sr. pastors I’ve known used to be youth ministers. I’m not sure they’d say they ‘aged out’, but God shifted them to a different focus. I’ve learned to appreciate the perspective you shared – God may be moving the youth minister in another direction, but it’s not about age.

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