I just bought two boxes of Little Debbies Christmas Tree cupcakes last week (if you know, you know). Promptly after getting home, I put them in the cookbook cabinet where I hide food I don’t want my kids to see (don’t judge). This means a few things . . .
- Yes, I hoard treats from my children.
- It’s December.
- It’s close to one of the most likely times for student ministry staff transitions.
This is probably no surprise, but the times I think most student ministry staff transition out are at the end of December and the end of the school year. The reasons are pretty obvious . . . they transition out at the end of one school semester and likely transition into a new role at the start of the next. Of course that’s not always true, but it’s often the case.
Now, when it comes to the idea of student ministry staff transitions, there are so many things we could talk about both from the side of the leader and the side of the church. In my experience as an Orange Specialist, we’re seeing way more student ministry staff leaving or being let go who are not currently interested in jumping back into ministry. I think that’s something to pay attention to, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
What I want to talk about are a few things I’ve learned in the midst of the transitions I’ve made in ministry.
How can we leave well?
In what ways can we set up the church/next leader to win?
How can we start well in our new ministry (if we’re moving into another one)?
Before I get started, I’ll just be skimming the surface. If you’re in the midst of a transition or thinking about it, I can’t encourage you enough to take the time to read through our Quit Kit resources. It’s totally free and worth your time!
Okay, back to it.
So, you’re leaving your church. Here are a few things I’d encourage you to think through.
Cash in Your Chips
Hopefully, over your time at the church you’re leaving, you’ve earned some relational and organizational chips. You can’t take those with you. Well, I guess you could, but it doesn’t do any good. It would be like taking home a thousand dollars worth of chips from a casino as a souvenir. I guess you could, but why?
This doesn’t mean we drop bombs on our way out. Just that we recognize that it’s our last chance to use our influence before we’re gone. So, what chips have you gained in your time and how can you use those chips to move the ball forward for your students? To encourage and equip your volunteers? To cast vision to the church about the importance of your students and their faith?
Whatever it is, now’s the time to cash in those chips.
I mean this both literally and metaphorically. Literally . . . just clean things up. Yes, I know about the youth closet. I know how long it’s been since the back room was cleaned, backstage was organized, or the kitchen was cleaned. If you’ve got the time, use some of it to do the dirty work of cleaning those spaces up so the next person doesn’t start with a mess on their hands.
Metaphorically, you need to ask yourself if there are any relational or organizational messes that you’re leaving the next person. Are there any volunteer leadership issues that you were looking forward to just running away from that you shouldn’t? Are there any truths you should share (in a loving way) with leadership that could pave a clearer path for the next student leader than the path that you had? Well, it’s time to cash those chips in (oh shoot, that was the last point) and give a clear runway for whoever is following you.
So, are there any messes (physical or otherwise) that you can clean up for the next person? I’m guessing yes.
This is one of the toughest pieces about leaving a church: telling people you’re leaving the church. From the conversations you have to inform leadership to how you choose to inform students, parents, and leaders . . . this is just not easy. I’m not sure there’s a right way to do this, but I sure do think there are some wrong ways. Use the filter of honor. Ask yourself: “How can I communicate this in a way that honors our students, volunteers, parents, leadership, and even the church?”
Oh, and be careful how you talk about God’s role in your leaving. Not that you don’t feel called or compelled to whatever is next, but just be careful about your words and how a twelve-year-old might interpret them. For instance: to you it might feel like you’re being obedient to God’s call in your life. To a twelve-year-old, it might feel like you’re leaving them for the bigger and better church a town over.
So, you’re starting at a new church. Here are a few things I’d encourage you to think through.
In your first year, I’d encourage you to have two main priorities: build relationships and earn trust. “Trust is the currency of leadership” was a quote we used all the time in my last church. There’s so much truth there. You might notice some big changes that need to be made pretty quickly, but take your time before pulling the trigger on them. Get to know the context, build relationships, and earn as much trust as possible so that, when the time comes to make those changes, you’re able to do so more effectively with people knowing you’re on their team.
Culture is one of those buzzwords in church that can mean something different to everyone. To me, culture is essentially what your ministry feels like. You may have inherited a great culture or a gnarly one. Diagnosing what you’ve inherited and beginning to shift it (or continuing to grow it) is a vital piece as you get started. For more about culture, check out this blog by Carey Nieuwhof.
Systems to Build
Whatever you’re trying to build at our new church, it won’t last without good systems. Systems essentially answer two questions: How do we make sure ____ happens? And what do we do when ____ happens? Creating systems means there are some things that are too important to leave to chance. From knowing who is showing up to each environment/program, to how often every student on your roster gets connected, to how/what you communicate to parents, and way more, the systems you build (or the bad systems you retire) are key.
I could talk systems for days . . . that’s why I did a deep dive about them on my personal blog. If you want to talk more systems, check it out.
Create Good Boundaries
I get it. You start at a new church and enthusiasm/excitement are high. You want to create a good impression, so you go all-in for your first few months. Just remember that a healthy you for five-to-seven-plus years is better than a super you for one. Set healthy boundaries and realistic expectations early on. This becomes much harder to do the longer you’re there.
Like I said, we’re just scratching the surface here. This blog could be a hundred thousand words and still not contain everything. But hopefully it gives some ideas if you’re in the midst of a transition or thinking about one. And don’t forget to check out the Quit Kit—there’s more great stuff there on leaving well and starting well.
As I wrap up, I do want to say that many of these things are only possible in healthier church settings. Some of you are leaving or have left some toxic situations where it’s just not possible to do these things. Some of you may even feel you’ve been caught in a bait and switch with the new church. Maybe you’ve just started and are realizing there’s not much you can do about starting well either. If either one of those are true, I’m sorry. If you need someone to process with or vent to, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Transitions are never easy and rarely fun. The fact that ministry is so relational in nature and students can have a difficult time understanding transitions can make them even more difficult. Thank you for doing what you’re doing. Thank you for investing in the faith and lives of the next generation.