Recently, I talked to a student who had been hurt by his youth pastor. You see, the student announced that he’d decided to attend a different church. And the youth pastor had severed all ties with him, almost instantly.
You know what the student said, how he had felt? Like a job.
He’d had a wonderful relationship with this youth pastor, which he needed because he was going through a rough period of his life. They had talked almost daily and the student had valued the help and the relationship. But theologically, there had been some issues that made him decide to switch churches. He never saw it coming, that changing churches would mean losing the relationship that meant so much to him.
He felt like he’d been a job, a task on a to do list, instead of a person in a valuable relationship.
As youth pastors, we talk a lot about relationships. We know relationships to be the core of youth ministry. But we cannot forget that by their very nature, relationships are not a job. They’re a calling.
I’ve been gone from my last paid position as youth pastor for over four years, yet I’m still in contact with some of my former students. This is no secret: their parents know (even though they’ve all become legal adults in the meantime), the new youth pastor knows, heck, everyone on Facebook knows.
I’ve been very open about why I have let go of most of my students, but not of all of them. Some needed me because they were in a place where they couldn’t lose the one person they trusted. Some needed me—or I should say us, because my husband was very much involved in youth ministry with me—because we had the unique experience and knowledge to help them. Some I couldn’t let go because I didn’t have a successor for almost two years and there was no one else to take over their pastoral care. And some I kept in touch with, simply because we weren’t done yet.
Relationships with students were never just my job. I invested in them long before I came on staff, back when I was a volunteer. I kept building them while I was working for that church. And after I was gone, even after I had become a volunteer in another church, even after not one but two international moves, some relationships were too valuable to me to lose. It’s because they were a calling, a Jesus-inspired heart thing, not an item in my job description or on my to do list.
Relationships with students are a precious commodity. If they mean as much to us as we say they do, they can never be just a job. It can’t be that we instantly cut all ties with (former) students when they move, when we change jobs, when they stop coming, or switch churches. True relationships transcend that. At the very least we keep investing in them until we know the students is ready to let go. Or to be let gone—grammatically incorrect, but you know what I mean.