So I have this sign posted on my office door…

…I am an interim youth minister…
…and I am working on my exit strategy…

It went up this last week with little fanfare. And I don’t plan on removing it any time soon. In fact I hope that this sign, or some variant of it, stays posted to my office door for years.

‘Wait,’ you say, ‘how can you be an interim for years to come?’

It’s a reminder to me that this ministry is not mine. It’s a reminder that if I leave this ministry and it falls apart, or if the person who comes after me has to begin from the ground up, then I have failed.

‘Wait,’ you say, ‘how can you say you have failed? What if students’ lives have been dramatically changed through your ministry?’

The grounding and growth of a student as a follower of Jesus is central to the ministry.

I am not. And it’s difficult coming to that realization.

I say that it is difficult because no matter how many times I might say the words ‘it’s not about me,’ but build ministry structures which center on me, on my gifts and abilities, and which without me would collapse, then it effect it really is all about me. Like in so many other areas of my life I realize that I have been living functionally divergent from my confessed values and aims.

No matter how many years I may serve in ministry, at any church, in whatever capacity, I will always have a successor. The Church has been around for thousands of years and there is no reason to believe that it won’t be around for thousands more. Even if she were to exist for only another 100 years there will be someone who follows me. My love for another brother or sister who must come after me ought to drive me to cultivate a ministry which can exist apart from me. My love for the students ought to drive me to create a sustainable ministry which in my absence will continue on unabated.

Ten months into this thing and I feel like I am just scratching the surface as to what it means to be a minister. If it’s true that every believer is a priest to God, which it is (1 Pet 2:9), then those of us who are in ‘full time ministry’ are simply the ones freed by the rest of the priests in our churches to focus on the job of ministering to others. But if in return we horde the responsibilities of ministry, refusing either through lack of faith in their abilities (we’re the ones trained for this, right?) or desire for praise and recognition (aren’t ministers worthy of a double honor 1 Tim 5:17 ?) to enable and empower every member of the church to use his or her God-given gifts to serve others then we have failed in ministry.

In this regard the ‘staff’ of a church serve as ministry facilitators.

In this regard I have failed to empower those in my church to serve our youth.

And so I’m embarking on the process of creating my exit strategy. I am committing myself to establishing ministry structures and a church culture which will far outlast me. I know that whomever follows will take the ministry in directions I could never have imagined or designed, but I am committed to leaving a healthy and thriving ministry in my wake, one which the next youth minister does not have to build from the ground up. Do with it what they will, that is not my concern. What is my concern is making me dispensable.

That sounds like a stupid thing to say. Especially when in business we are taught to make ourselves indispensible, read: job security. But which comes first, job security or healthy ministry? To strive for the former ahead of the latter is to build a house without a foundation. Yes, I want job security. I have a family. I have bills. To be wanton with my job would be unfaithful to the rest of my responsibilities. To strive first for the latter will inherently bring with it the former. With a healthy ministry comes the job security desired.

It may sound crass to talk about such things, but it’s the truth. And yes, I understand that in certain situations being the prophetic voice that God may call you to be will result in job loss. In that respect healthy ministry negates job security. But here I am talking about ministry in a healthy church.

God help me to become the minister he desires me to be. God help me actualize what I conceptualize. God help me be a good interim for those who come after me.