This year’s theme is “The Life.” Today we explore that with….
The Life of the Former…
Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.
Well it happened. The reason isn’t important, but you’ve been working with your students for (insert amount of time here) and now you’re moving on. You’ve been called to another church, another position, an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico – it doesn’t matter the point is you’re leaving your specific position as student minister.
Unless you’re in your first ministry job (and maybe even then) you’ve been here. You’re excited about the new thing, but what about the old one? Well, you’re moving on to the new thing – yeah, but what about the old thing?
Have you been here and looked back? How much had it changed? How amazingly rewarding was it to see what you’d done come together after the fact and grow? How much did it suck to see all the hard work you’d put in get completely undone? Congratulations, you’re a former.
If you grew up in church, think about your formers. Most of them were! Some let us get away with WAY too much. Some directly impacted our faith formation. Some are our mentors even today. If you didn’t, or you cut and run when you exit a situation that doesn’t apply, but let’s be honest, when you find yourself on the other side of that fence it creates an unsure space.
Once you’re there… you have options, but all involve one requirement: let it go, let it goooo (I’m so sorry). But seriously, release. Once you aren’t the student minister, unless you’re some sort of supervisory something-or-other you’ve got to let go of that role. Of course relationships will remain, because that’s what good ministers do – they’ll change and grow as both sides adapt to the new situation. But imagine how you would feel (or felt) if when you stepped into that role the former minister kept sticking her or his nose into everything that you did… not cool.
Of course if you’ve moved far far away it’s a little easier to stay out of things, but if you’re in town or even in the same church, this can be hard.
I’m not just talking about nostalgia here, we all know how that works. Whether it’s high school or your first car or the last time your football team was good, back when…whatever, you know what I’m talking about. It’s been scientifically proven (probably) that it’s easier to focus on the good stuff in retrospect. We do it with all sorts of stuff, especially if we’ve been emotionally invested.
Even if you didn’t have an actual plan, you had a vision. A general framework of what your student ministry would become. We all do it, unconsciously or intentionally. We have some form of picture in our heads of “our” student ministry will look like – composition, activity, interactivity, involvement, and of course theology. Because we’re invested in what we do – we are in the ministry because we love what we do and we care about how our students develop as people – and that’s a good thing.
But different people have different visions. And that was your group. They’re changing it! You worked so hard to help those students live into the groups personality, they had an identity and you helped. Their theology was (on the way to) a good place, and they were living it, leaning into it. What if that all goes away!? (take a deep breath) Welp, them’s the breaks.
So what do you do? Other than nothing… find someone to vent to. NOT someone connected with the group, but if they know the group then that’s cool. Tell them about all your fears and your frustrations.
Do you know the new minister? Talk to them (talk, don’t vent) ask them about their vision and share yours. Talk about the struggles you had, and those people to watch out for. Offer yourself as a mentor, but let them be the lead.
Maintain the relationships you found in that group, knowing that they might vent to you, but don’t be that dude/chick – listen but don’t get involved.
Most importantly, you do you. Focus on your stuff, you’ve got a new group, or your fishing or whatever… live into that. Do your thing and see where it goes. Don’t try to replicate your last group because that won’t happen, but you know what will? You and your new students will find your own identity and a new vision will arise. Don’t keep looking backward, that’s already done. Look forward and imagine, who knows what could happen this time.