Transitional Leadership for Youth Ministry: Looking to the Future (Part 6 of 7)
This is part six of the 7-part series I posted on my blog, dedicating real estate to blogging through the transitional process--announcing departure, setting up systems for success, remembering the work God has done, looking into the future, etc.
It is a fact that when transition is happening, the future is going to look different. There is a new future coming--a time when our paths will diverge, and hopefully someone else will step in to carry on the work that has been begun. That new future is going to mean changes in everything from relationships to programming. As a leader in transition, it is important to help youth prepare for the new future.
Now, I'm not saying that we want to predict the future--after all, we don't really know what the new future will be like. That said, however, we do want to speak hope and life into the future--into the future of the students and of the ministry, and into the future leadership.
This Sunday, I am going to be having the first of two transitional gatherings with the young people from my church. This week, our focus will be looking to the future, and next week, on my last Sunday, the focus will be on saying goodbyes. As I have been preparing for what this Sunday's conversation might look like, here are some thoughts that I've had on the value and practice of looking to the future during a season of transition.
- Speak life into your successor, whether you know who that will be or not. This is so important. It's really tempting to agree with young people when they say things like "nobody's ever gonna be as good as you." Just encourage them that, though the person who follows you will be different, he or she will still be good. God has created lots of wonderful and talented (and different) youth leaders, and though this season is ending, there is an exciting opportunity for new life on the horizon.
- Speak hope and blessing into the future of the students. Let them know that you care about their lives beyond the date you leave--whether they will be entering high school for the first time, starting their senior year, or moving on to college--show them that you are aware and that you care. Their lives will go on when you are gone, but knowing that you care and acknowledge that can be a huge blessing to students. Wish them good luck on an upcoming athletic competition, or blessing for their senior year. You can even encourage them to keep you posted on some of those important upcoming events. Be sure they know that you still care, even if you are not physically present.
- Remind students that though your role as their youth minister will change, your love for them--and in many cases, friendship with them--does not have to disappear. Sure, the relationship will change, but demonstrate for them (perhaps even by giving examples) that you are not abandoning them or giving up on their life. There are many students from my previous church that I still keep in touch with, and even see once in a while, and I anticipate that the same will be true for this crew.
- If there is not a new leader in place as a replacement, encourage the kids to take this opportunity to take some ownership of the ministry in the interim. When I left my last church, a group of the kids were so determined not to let programming fall apart that they took on the leadership of it and made it their own--that program is now (three years later) far stronger than when I left it--and it's still mostly student led! This is a great opportunity to empower student leaders.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. But it does serve as a launch pad. In a time of transition, please do not leave this out. It is important for young people to know that the future will still be good, that you will still be a part of it (just in a different role), and that you care about what happens after you leave.
Erin M Haligowski
Erin M Haligowski serves as the full-time Youth Director at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (Practical Theology) from Ashland University (2007) and a Masters of Divinity in General Ministry from Ashland Theological Seminary (2011). Erin is a social media power-user, and blogs regularly. She is happily married to her husband, Scott. In her dream world, Erin would spend her time sharing Jesus with young people, playing guitar, and sipping a good cup of light roast coffee from Caribou Coffee.