It was a rainy evening in Lexington, Ky. and Stephanie (my wife who is way smarter than me) and I were sitting in Qdoba. (isn’t this how all great stories should start?) I was a couple of months away from graduating from seminary and we were dreaming about the future – where God would take us. And, while we were excited, there was a little bit of apprehension in our conversation. We had been here before, but it didn’t end well. We had already been down the road of graduating from school and hunting for a ministry job but the job only lasted six weeks.
A few years prior, I had graduated from college full of energy, enthusiasm, and vision – ready to change the world. I took a job as a youth pastor and quickly realized it wasn’t a good fit. Six weeks later I was moving back into my parent’s house, and I became a basement dweller without energy or enthusiasm. All the momentum from my years of preparation had been taken away. Not ready to go back into a church I found my way to Kentucky and started back in school.
I spent the next two and a half years grinding the time out at seminary. Yet, the time there was a balm to my soul. I was able to safely reflect on what had happened and what I could learn from the trauma of getting fired from a church.
This is why we were nervous sitting in Qdoba that night. We didn’t want to go through that again, we wanted to be in a place where we would be able to thrive! What we did that night shaped the way we looked at hunting for a place to minister. We realized we needed to be picky, and so we sat down and wrote what we were looking for in a church. Here’s what made the list:
1. We needed a church whose senior leader’s approach and style would be complementary to my own and not clashing. It’s important to look for a senior pastor with strong leadership. Churches rise and fall on those God has placed in places of leadership. As a youth pastor, your ability to lead and minister in a church is closely connected with how your senior pastor leads the church.
2. We needed a proper fit between a church community and us. When I first graduated from college, I operated under the assumption that I, if professional enough, could minister wherever we were sent. What I realized is that this is not the case. Some of the most successful pastors I’ve met have failed when they’re in places that do not fit their gifts and skills. Yet, when placed in a setting that lines up with their gifts and skills they flourish. We all leave a unique mark on the world and have a unique place in the world. It’s important to find a place that fits who we are emotionally, culturally and demographically.
3. We needed a church that shared the same passions that we do. Passion at some level, indicates the direction of the church, and there are a plethora of things that a church can be passionate about. I discovered that as a youth pastor, my job is not to change the direction or the passion of a church, but to fit inside that passion. I needed to find a church that fit our passions and our desires for the growth of God’s Kingdom.
4. We needed a church community that sought to develop me as a person and a pastor. The best churches out there understand that youth pastors need to grow and develop, and see themselves as a place where their pastors develop and grow in their ability, skill, and vision. They understand that a life of ministry is not a static experience, but rather it is a life of constant growth and development.
5. We needed a church that could be honest with who they were. A friend of mine graduated from school and was expected to double his already healthy youth group in a year. The church was not being honest with itself and as a result he was fired less than a year into his time there. A church that understands itself will establish healthy expectations and will provide support to help accomplish those goals.
This list helped our search and this time we have been in the same place for much longer than six weeks. Recently, we went back and looked at our list of what we were looking for in a church, and realized that everything on our list has been fulfilled at our current church. We have found that this is a place where a youth pastor can thrive!