John Fehlen is the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church in Salem, Oregon.
Kimberly Dirmann is the co-pastor, family pastor and kids’ pastor of The Rock, a Foursquare Church in Anaheim, California.
Harrison Conley is the youth pastor at Cottonwood Church in Los Alamitos, California.
Tammy Dunahoo is the Foursquare General Supervisor and a strong advocate for NextGen ministries.
Today I want to begin a series that is a rough one, but I feel it is something that every youth leader needs to hear. Nothing makes me feel like more of a failure than when I pour time, resources and love into a student only to have them leave the group, seemingly leave God and live for the world. I always ask myself:
What could I have done better?
Did I love them enough?
Am I even really called to ministry?
Perhaps these are or aren’t logical questions, but they are questions I ask myself. And I doubt I’m the only one who asks them. I’ve been a youth pastor for nine years this week. I’m not the best, but I have survived. I’m still going strong and I have no plan to quit or move on in the near future. But I have lost students. Some kids, no matter what we do will only be in our lives, in our ministries, for a season. We won’t change the lives of every student that walks through our doors. And we almost never see the real fruit of our labor.
Why do we lose kids? In this series I hope to inform and encourage you with three reasons why we lose some kids.
This week I’d like to investigate the average student’s life. Let me ask you this; Where do your students spend the bulk of their time? If you were to break down a week of a student’s life, make a list of where they spend their time and then order that from most time to least, it may look something like this:
2. Home: TV, Computer, Tech time, eating, etc…
5. The Bathroom
I used to work for a Human Services agency in Wyoming. The main point of my job was to teach students who came from rougher upbringings how to behave appropriately and to take responsibility for their actions. My job was only during school hours and I would only have students for 1-to-5 days at a time before they went back to regular classes and their regular lives. It is crazy-difficult to teach a student even simple things if they don’t live in a world that reinforces what you are teaching them.
That principle applies in youth ministry as well.
We get to minister to students, on average, for 1.5-to-2.5 hours a week. If our kids don’t live in a world where the love of Christ is shown regularly, it can be quite difficult to get them to really connect. If they are spending their easily influenced teen-aged lives immersed in a culture that is anti-God or anti-love it is nearly impossible to even get a student to really feel the love of God. Now, I’m not saying God doesn’t have a plan for that student or that miracles can’t happen, because He does have a plan and He does work miraculously in student’s lives. I’m just saying that sometimes — and in my experience, often times — when a student lives in a world vastly contrary to God, it is quite difficult to minister to them as they are often taking one step forward then two steps back.
Does that mean that we don’t try with these students? HECK NO! It means that we try harder! We get up every day and we love on all of our students to the best of our ability in hopes of helping them to cultivate a life changing relationship with Christ! But sometimes we lose one of these students. And when that happens, it’s sad and it hurts. But after nine years of fighting this fight I can honestly encourage you: don’t stress about it too much. God is in control. It’s not your job to save these kids. That’s Jesus’ job and He has done it better than you ever could.
When you lose one of these kids, get up, evaluate the situation, learn from your mistakes and try again. And always remember: you may feel that you have lost a student, but God didn’t. He is still with them wherever they go.
Have you ever felt this way after losing a student? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. Seriously! We’re all in this together!