If you’ve been in volunteer youth ministry for any length of time, this is a scenario you either have experienced or will experience. I’ve been through it twice, and the fact is that a change in leadership is never an easy transition. In fact, it’s incredibly hard. It will rip your heart out and reduce you to tears. Saying goodbye to someone that you’ve labored alongside hurts. A lot. Even as I type this, I can almost feel the tears I shed running down my cheeks the first time I went through this. I remember the second resignation I went through; the wrenching feeling in my chest the afternoon I met the youth pastor for coffee at Starbucks, and he told me he had accepted a position at another church. But perhaps more importantly, I remember walking with students through these times of transition. So, what does a change in leadership mean for you?


(If I may have a brief aside for the youth pastors reading this. If you’re going to be leaving your youth ministry, first let me point you to an excellent resource by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston from their Simply Youth Ministry Today newsletter (link will take you to their blog, More than Dodgeball, which is another fantastic resource; http://www.morethandodgeball.com/2012/05/17/how-to-tell-students-youre-leaving/). I’d like to draw particular attention to the first point: tell your staff/volunteers first. As I said above, your leaving is going to be hard on them, but it’s going to be even harder on your students, and once you’re gone, they’ll be the ones who will remain, and will help the students through the transition. You owe it to them to tell them first, and they need time to prepare themselves.)


Now, for the volunteers and others left behind. First, remember that your commitment is (or should be) to the students. Youth ministry can, should, and will carry on in your church long after your youth pastor departs. Your commitment and calling is to minister to youth; stick to that.


Second, don’t resign from your youth ministry, at least not yet. It may very well be that your youth pastor’s moving on coincides with the Lord taking you to a new place, and a new season in ministry. If at all possible, leave some time between the youth pastor’s departure and yours. There probably isn’t a way to leave well in this situation; if you leave right away, if you wait, or if you leave after the new youth pastor arrives, people will question your motives (you left because the pastor left, you got fed up/angry with the search process, or don’t like the new guy/girl, just to name a few). Let them. So long as your conscience is clear before God, don’t worry about what others will think. If you decide to stay (which I hope you will), step up your commitment to connection with students. A change in leadership at the top can lead to a loss of students. Sometimes this will be beyond your control (such as the entire family will leave the church), they could end up in another youth ministry (in which case, it’s okay to let them go), or they may stop attending without going somewhere else, which is what you can help guard against. Don’t make it easy for them to just drop out (I could write an entirely separate post about that, and may do so at some point).


Third, help the departing youth pastor with his/her transition. This is something I haven’t done very well in the past, that I hope I will do better at the next time I am faced with this situation (which I hope won’t be for a very long time). Making this move is going to be very hard on your youth pastor, and they can use all the help they can get. Done right, their last night can be a wonderful sendoff full of memories, laughter, and fun. It also helps if you can get your pastor started in their new place once they get there. If you know where it is they’re going, see if you can set them up with some gift cards for local grocery stores, restaurants in the area of their new ministry, and maybe even some shops so they can buy a few things to make their new house/apartment feel like home. When I went through one of these transitions, our youth pastor was going to Minneapolis, where my sister has lived for several years, which made her a great resource. If you know someone in the area that your pastor is going to, see what advice they can offer, or reach out to a church in the area that they’re going to and see what advice they can give.


During the interim period, while the search is on for your next youth pastor, be at as many youth events as you can. Someone on your church’s leadership team (a deacon, etc) may be tasked with keeping the youth ministry moving forward, or it may fall to the volunteer leadership team to keep things going. Whether it’s one person or several, extra help will be needed and appreciated. If it’s at all possible to step up your commitment, do it.


I have another post in the works (should be up within the next several days) with practical advice on what to do when the new youth pastor arrives. Until then, thanks for reading. Feedback is always welcome.