We’ve all heard the scary statistic that the average stay of a youth pastor is around 18 months. Although I can’t confirm this exact number, it’s clear that youth pastor burnout and turnover is a real thing. Typical youth leaders, in the typical church, don’t stay long.
So what can we do about it? How do we help youth leaders prevent burnout and turnover? Here are 5 simple ways:
1. Make youth ministry a church-wide priority.
“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
When youth leaders see teenagers and youth ministry as a church-wide, strategic priority, they begin to see their job as important. They don’t feel like second-class ministry professionals; rather they start to see themselves as frontline warriors for a crucial Kingdom demographic.
Teenagers come to Christ quicker and spread the Gospel faster and father than adults. So why would we not focus on them? One on-fire-for-Christ teenager on TikTok can reach more people in one viral post than Billy Graham could in a dozen chock-full stadiums. Teenagers deployed on every school campus can become, in the words of my friend Chris Selby, federally funded missionaries.
If we miss youth, we miss the movement. Make sure your youth leader knows this, feels this, and senses this from you.
2. Prioritize soul care as a nonnegotiable.
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Isaiah 44:3
Many youth leaders are dried up and burned out. They need encouragement. They need Sabbath. They need rest and refreshing. They are dry ground, spiritually and emotionally speaking. And it’s hard to produce rich fruit from dry ground.
How do we provide streams of water for them to be refreshed? How do we help them be ready, on every level, to tackle the challenges ahead of them with spiritual vigor, emotional health, and relational strength? We must provide soul care or, at a minimum, make available the resources where they can find it.
My former youth ministry professor at Colorado Christian University, R.J. Koerper, speaks to this crucial issue. I challenge you to watch this podcast and then forward it onto your youth leader. It deals directly with helping youth leaders improve when it comes to soul care.
A spiritually, relationally, and emotionally healthy youth leader has a much deeper impact on his or her teenagers—and an exponentially wider impact on his or her community—than a depleted one.
3. Give them a vision worth staying for.
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28
Years ago I wrote a book called Ministry Mutiny that tells the fictional story of a young youth leader named Ty who’s about to quit. He wakes up one day to the sad reality that most of his teenagers are spiritually apathetic and that his youth ministry, though attended, is failing drastically when it comes to making, let alone multiplying, disciples.
Before he hands in his resignation, he decides to go to one last youth leader network meeting. There he engages with Tony, an older youth leader who has youth ministry success in all the right ways. Over the course of several weeks, Tony mentors Ty with a new vision and philosophy of youth ministry. He gives him the keys to truly making a difference in the lives of the next generation.
What does Ty do with this information? Get the free e-book here, and find out for yourself!
My point is this: Many youth leaders get discouraged and quit because they don’t have a vision worth staying for or, if they do have a vision, a strategy for accomplishing it.
Our proposed vision is this:
Every teen, everywhere (in your community), hearing the Gospel from a friend.
This vision requires you to activate your teenagers and disciple them to the point of spiritual multiplication. For more on this, check out our Gospel Advancing vision and strategy page on the Dare 2 Share website.
4. Pay them enough to make a career of it.
“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” 1 Timothy 5:18
Sometimes youth leaders have to quit because they aren’t getting paid enough to support their families. In many churches, youth pastors are at the bottom of the pay scale because, compared with other jobs, youth ministry may not seem as important.
But it is.
In the words of my friend Kathy Branzell, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force: “Teenagers are not just the next generation. They are the now generation!” Every major spiritual awakening in the history of the United States has had teenagers on the leading edge. Jesus Himself chose mostly teenagers to be His disciples!
We must pay youth leaders as if they’ve been given charge of the most precious commodity in your church (because they have)—young people! God can use these young people to trigger a Gospel Advancing movement that starts in the youth room and spreads to the church auditorium. These young people also form a farm club for our future church-wide leaders.
Stop and think about what that’s worth to you and your church—and pay accordingly.
5. Pray for them, and get others to join you.
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:10-11
If we want youth leaders to stay and thrive, we must kneel and pray. We must intercede on their behalf and on behalf of the youth they oversee. We must ask God to strengthen them in their personal lives, their family lives, and their ministry impact.
The prayers of the Corinthian church supported Paul as he spread the Gospel across the province of Asia by training the believers in Ephesus to multiply disciples across their region (Acts 19:8-10). These prayers were crucial and, in his own words, helped Paul and his team.
This kind of “air support” for our ground troops in ministry is super-important. Our youth pastors are facing a whole new generation of teenagers with a whole new set of challenges (gender issues, LGBTQ+ struggles, being part of the first post-Christian generation in the history of the United States, etc.). They need our fervent prayers and support.
I challenge you to implement these 5 steps to preventing youth ministry burnout and turnover. We need Gospel Advancing, disciple-multiplying youth leaders now more than ever!