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Youth Pastor Failures

It’s not a topic we like to talk about: our disappointments, failures, and mistakes. As a youth pastor, we’re in the spotlight. We’re supposed to be a role model, to live a life above reproach, to be an example in everything we do.

Yet we’re also human.

We’re also sinners.

But how much space is there to be who we truly are, including our failures?

There are four aspects to this that I’d like to highlight.

Let’s Start Showcasing Failures

Our culture is obsessed with success and sadly, in the church it’s no different. Any youth ministry conference you go to will be mostly about successes. You’ll hear from the greats in youth ministry who’ve been doing it forever and who have had tremendous success. Or you see upcoming ‘stars’ who are doing well in their particular church, denomination, or niche. They share their approach, programs, philosophy, and methods.

But how often do they share their mistakes and failures?

We only hear about those when they fail publicly, when they’ve been fired, or worse. But an honest evaluation from youth pastors about mistakes they made? That’s a rarity.

Yet it’s what’s needed to create a safe space for all youth pastors to share their disappointments. So let’s start showcasing mistakes, disappointments, and big fails in public, like on youth ministry conferences.


Let’s Start Showing Grace as the Church

The second reason why many of us don’t have a safe place to be honest about our mistakes is because the church we’re in isn’t that forgiving. I’ve heard of youth pastors who confessed to having a certain problem (say: porn addiction) and were fired as a result. Well, that’s certainly not an incentive to be honest, now is it?

The church should stop expecting any staff members to be perfect. Yes, there should be rules and I have no problem with a code of conduct for instance. But still, grace should be the primary rule.

And that holds true for the bigger church as well. Too often we ‘enjoy’ the fall of others, condemn them, instead of gracefully forgiving and supporting them. We are the church, the body of Christ. We’re called to be the place for second, third, and fourth chances. So let’s start showing abundant grace as the church, as to create a safe place for everyone to be honest about who they are.

Let’s Start Forgiving Ourselves

This is the hardest part, isn’t it? The disappointment we experience towards ourselves when we fail.

I’ve been there. And I wanted to dig a deep hole for myself and camp out there till the storm had blown over.

The Psalms have been my rescue on more than one occasion, especially Psalm 51. David’s desperate acknowledgement of his sin and his passionate plea for restoration have been lifelines for me in times of trouble.

But in order to forgive myself, I’ve had to learn that my worth doesn’t stem from what I do in youth ministry or anywhere else, but from the fact that I am a child of God. To get there has been a long and difficult journey however—and I’m sure many of you recognize this.

Let’s start showing ourselves the grace we are often willing to show others. Let’s give ourselves room for mistakes and the courage to admit them to ourselves.

Let’s Start Healthy Habits

Stephen Burell did his dissertation on ministry failures and interviewed many (former) pastors who had experienced (non-moral) failure. He noticed a pattern in those who bounced back from their mistakes:

  • They had support systems and mentors
  • They pursued God through prayer, solitude, and Scripture reading
  • They took time to grieve and heal before returning to ministry
  • They developed significant relationships with non-Christians
  • They experienced a spiritual breakthrough where they were able to let go of bitterness and start the process of forgiveness through the Holy Spirit

We can learn from the habits of pastors who returned to their ministry after failing big time. Any youth pastor standing alone is so much weaker than one who is surrounded and supported by friends and a youth ministry network.

Let’s start building healthy habits today to overcome failure tomorrow.

[Photo credit: Behrooz Nobakht, Flickr, Creative Commons]
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