Four Principles From Auditing My 10-Year Youth Ministry – BAPTIST TIMES ARTICLE REPOST

I wrote the following article for the Baptist Times magazine Youth to Truth column, submitted March 4, 2020:

With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, transitions are shaking everyone up. Take Disney, for example. When CEO Bob Iger retired last month, Disney’s stock dropped 2.8% the next day—a collective shiver rippling down the spine of investors who bailed before the new guy could tank the company.

I can’t blame them. No one can read the future, and uncertainty makes people nervous.

The best way to calm people’s fears is to have a succession plan, even in youth ministry. Although I was doing my favorite thing in the world—being a youth pastor—my dad and I knew it was not going to be forever. We spent a couple years praying about a replacement, and last year I passed my thimble-full of wisdom to one of my former teens: Christian Saldana.

Yep. 2019 was my final year as youth pastor. Can someone tell my teens to stop cheering over there? Thank you.

Looking back, I am glad we took our time with the transition. I wanted a youth director who was going carry on our Bible focus and love our teens as much as my wife and I did. I wanted someone who would preach the Bible and emphasize a heart for God in every sermon. I wanted a youth pastor who would not rely on experience or his gift of gab but would truly minister to families through spiritual means.

Basically, I wanted a youth pastor who would “get it.” After watching God work through Bro. Christian’s teen and college years, we were confident that he was the man for the job.

Now, after one year, I am happy to report: so far, so good. He and his wife, Sarah, have exceeded my expectations, and I have learned from the process. The following are four lessons about guided transitions from my ministry audit of the past ten years of youth ministry:

1. Begin with the end in mind

Stephen Covey’s forward-thinking law means that the transition out of youth ministry happens when you transition into youth ministry. I asked myself when I started, “What would a great youth pastor be doing in 10 years?” and launched by emphasizing the Bible. If I wanted anything that was going to outlive me, this was it. My main concern in choosing a successor was whether he would rely on Scriptures (rather than himself) to help people. I had confidence in choosing Bro. Christian because he was a product of Bible change and would look to the same end for others.

2. Use principles to guide structure

Biblical principles still guide our youth ministry, although the details have changed over the past year. Having been involved with ministries that downplayed some of the most important parts of Scripture—namely preaching, evangelism, discipleship, church attendance, service, etc.—I wanted our youth ministry to emphasize the things that the Bible emphasizes. Before the transition, I set clear expectations of what our youth ministry should be, but I used these principles only as the boundaries within which the new guy could innovate.

3. Give freedom to change

Innovation is like a sandbox of ideas; principles are the borders. Nothing boosted my confidence more than when Pastor Hardy respected a change I had presented—even though I was a 21-year-old intern with crazy ideas. My guided freedom always had clear boundaries, yet I was never micromanaged.

Bro. Christian had total freedom within the sandbox of his first year, yet wisely chose to copy the schedule from the previous year to get a feel for the fundraisers, activities, church events, parent reactions, camps, and everything else that people had come to expect from our youth ministry. Now, I trust his heart for the teens and know that everything he changes is in their best interest, so I support any innovations he brings.

4. Provide guidance to understand

My first year with Bro. Christian included several philosophical emails and conversations, explained in ways I will never articulate to anyone else. He likes to know the “why” even more than the “what,” so rather than leaving it up to him to decipher my thoughts, we have clear conversations on music choice, preaching philosophy, camp options, fundraiser structure, dress philosophy, and other church-specific issues that you can’t always read in a book. If he crosses a principle boundary, we have a simple conversation to show where those edges are. Thankfully, Bro. Christian is both humble enough to accept the guidance and wise enough to figure things out on his own.

In all, the transition has been great. Right, Christian? Riiiight? Good.

We both want the best for the people God has called us to, so hurt feelings take second place to God’s ideal.

To the new guy, it’s not, “Pastor is too hard…” but, “I learned a lot about…”

To the old guy, it’s not, “Young blood just wants all the glory!” but, “These changes are helping us.”

Both the incoming and the outgoing parties have responsibilities in a transition. With humility and intentionality, it is a smooth process.