Jul 25

“Filling Their Shoes”: Succession in Youth Ministry

Recently I have been helping a Church think through the hire of their next youth pastor, and it had me thinking about succession in youth ministry.  It has been my experience that there is a sort of “loyalty factor” between students and families who were connected to the previous youth pastor as a new youth pastor tries to establish himself.  Many times I have heard the phrase “You have some big shoes to fill”.  While that is hard to hear that said to you (but wonderful when it is said about you), if we are truly about relationships, then there is going to be a natural response of people wanting to remain loyal to the one they have relationships with.  For the incoming youth pastor, it will be up to you to fill those shoes.  Trust will need to be established among the people, and this could take a long time.  It will take relational equity, making changes slowly, and building a series of successes over a long period of time.  I have seen this done well, and done poorly.  Personally, there have been times where I have been successful in this area, and have failed miserably.  Ultimately your success in ministry will be determined by how well you maneuver during this time.

Here are some thoughts for the new youth pastor coming into a new ministry setting:

Speak Well of Your Predecessor:  No matter what the condition of the ministry you are coming to, it is imperative that you speak well of your predecessor.  You may not like what they have done, and you may even not like who they are, but the truth will most likely be that the people you are trying to lead have been blessed by what your predecessor has done.  To speak poorly of them or their efforts is a cheap way to establish yourself.  This is easy to fall into when you begin to hear the complaints of the former youth guy, or  all you hear in your first year is how great they were, or “there will never be anyone like him”.    The reality is you never win points by caving to the temptation.  No matter how tempting it is, never put the other guy down.

Build On What Has Been Established: While you will definitely will want to make some changes, be intentional about building on what has been established.  In my previous and current ministry, it has been my goal to build on what already was in place.  Whether it is a program name, tradition, or ministry plan, I kept the things that were working well, and then built up from there.  By building on what has been established, you are affirming what is already successful, and charting a new course for the future.

Think Long-Term:  It is going to take four to seven years for an entire group of students to matriculate through your ministry.  Each year you are there will be one year less that the former youth pastor was there.  If you plan for longevity, you will eventually establish your philosophy, leadership, traditions and loyalty.

Plan For Your Replacement: Someday you will be leaving, and there will be shoes that will need to be filled.  Begin with the end in mind by preparing your followers to welcome, love, and be excited for the arrival of your replacement.  The best model I have for this is the way my predecessor planned for my arrival when I came to Grace.  He spoke well of me, he didn’t allow people to complain to him about me during the transition, and most of all he helped me with whatever I needed.  It was a great image of servant-leadership, and it is the reason I’m passionate about helping the succession in youth ministry to be less competitive, and more collaborative.  The future success of your ministry depends on how well you set up the next youth pastor.  Speak well of them.