Mark Oestreicher suggests that a long youth ministry at the same place could be absolutely the right thing to do

Recently, at one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts, we were having a conversation about longevity in ministry (specifically, staying at one church or ministry for a long time). Various people were sharing great thoughts on the benefits and challenges. In our little cohort of 11 people, one had been at his church for 15 years, one was at his last church for 14 years, and one has been at her church for 11 years, and I’ve been a volunteer in the youth ministry at my church for 25 years. So, we had a few who knew what they were talking about.

Again, we’re not just talking about being a ‘youth ministry veteran’ who has been at 6 different churches or ministries for 4 years each. We’re talking about staying put—one church or ministry, many years.

I made some notes to myself, which I’ll call Four Mindsets Necessary for Ministry Longevity (a.k.a. Staying Put).


1. The grass is usually not greener over there

Sure, the other church or looks awesome. Seems like it would be an amazing place to become the uber-children’s or youth worker, right? Nah, probably not. In fact, you know how grass gets really green where a dog pees, then eventually kinda burns out because of the nitrogen? Yeah, well—that other place might just look greener at the moment, because, well… (I’ll let you finish that on your own).


Related to that first one…

2. Don’t compare what you know about your context to what you assume about another

This mindset is a rif on some advice I received years ago, when I was comparing my own ministry context to what a big-time speaker guy was saying about his seemingly-perfect church.

I find this to be true over and over again with those I coach. You know the dirt on your current place. You know that sweet looking old dude is actually trying to make your life a living hell. You know the senior leader, who seems so approachable and personable actually struggles like crazy to engage at a human level. Then, you see that other church or ministry, and you make assumptions, sometimes through rosey glasses (glasses, btw, that are provided to you free of charge by that ministry that wants you to see them in that rosey hue).


3. Tension is a great opportunity for growth, if you have the humility to flex and be wrong

Marriages reach what has commonly been called the 7-year itch. The honeymoon is long gone, and things have settled into a rut of sameness. I think ministry workers hit a 3- or 4-year itch:

  • Year one = wow, you really like me!
  • Year two = yeah, let’s stir the pot and change some things!
  • Year three = yes, things are starting to click!
  • Year four = I’m out of ideas, and you people kinda suck.

But…if you want personal growth; well, then, staying is the best option. Sure, there are times to leave. But you’ll likely experience more growth by staying than if you bolt—even though there’s tension and things aren’t rosey.


4. You’ll need a localized vision and appreciation for the unique ministry opportunities and potential of your specific community and ministry

If your vision is vanilla—like, “I want to be big,” or “I want to have a national platform,” or “I want churches on the other side of the country to be like us”—you’re often forced to cater to the lowest common denominator. Wat if you end up creating and leading the MOST AMAZING MINISTRY EVER for rural kids in a conservative small town? In order to make it translate or transfer to being the MOST AMAZING MINISTRY EVER for that immigrant-heavy Catholic ministry in an impoverished urban area, well, you’re gonna to have to shave off a good dose of the uniqueness. You’re going to have to vanilla-ize it. Bleh. Ministry workers who stay at the same church or organization for a long time invent their own flavors that have very little to do with vanilla.

I’ve written this before: everywhere I go in the world, the best ministries are weird; they have a high degree of awareness about their uniqueness and celebrate them, rather than tamping them down.

So the corollary is: Everywhere I go in the world, the best MINISTRY WORKERS are weird. Know yourself, and fly your freak flag.

To be clear: I am not suggesting you should never leave, or that you should stay when things are toxic, or you’re being mistreated. Heck, I worked at four different churches, and the stories of why I moved were, in each case, completely different from one another, and clear to me that the move was right. All I’m sayin’ is—and you can ask any ministry worker (paid or volunteer) who has stayed in one place more than 10 years—there are M