The Secret Sauce: How You Can Be a Successful Youth Pastor

Youth pastor
How long have you stuck around the ministry? (iStock photo)

You could spend months debating the best strategy for your group.

But the truth is, it doesn't matter ... if you're not around long enough to make it happen.

Culture change and systematic growth are things that take years, not months.

Does that mean that the secret sauce of youth ministry success is just hanging around for a while?


There is fruit to be gained from longevity, if you stick around long enough to pick it.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the length of time it takes to become really successful at something. His answer?

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Ten thousand hours.

It sounds like a lot of time, but 10,000 hours is actually represented by just five years of full-time employment.

On average, a youth worker lasts about four years. Does that mean that too many of us are getting out of ministry just before we make it over that tipping point?

It's possible.

One lesson from Moses is this: Sometimes the only way to get across the desert is to keep walking.

It takes time—a lot of time—to truly understand and become a part of the larger community that surrounds your congregation.

It takes a long time to change the culture of your volunteers, students and especially parents.

It takes a very long time to raise up an immature bunch of sixth-graders into excellent upperclassmen and phenomenal leaders.

More than that, sometimes sticking around through tough times is just faithfulness to God for placing you in that position in the first place. Generally, I've found that this kind of faithfulness is rewarded.

Bottom line: The length of time you invest into your ministry might be more important than the strategies you choose to invest your time in. If you're looking for overnight success, you're not going to find it.

But ... burnout is the enemy of longevity.

This is the reason I study burnout and why I write the kinds of things that are designed to help you stay in ministry forever.

Jesus was in public ministry for three-and-a-half years. But for many of us, we pack up sometime before year two, frustrated with the lack of results we've seen. We begin by wanting to change the world and leave upset that it didn't happen as quickly as we would have liked.

That's why it's massively important to protect yourself, your family and your passion for ministry.

Because here's the thing: The greatest fruits of our labors are waiting for us just beyond the point when so many of us give up looking for it.

My prayer for you is this: Continue in the ministry to which you've been called. Seek Christ as the source of strength for your efforts. Then continue on again. Amen. 

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth-worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations—things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

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