Changes in Leadership

Today, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver announced its annual pastoral appointments.  Every July, some priests changes parishes: head pastors move churches, some assistant pastors become head pastors, and other priests move into specialized roles, move out of the archdiocese, or retire.

At my home parish of St. Paul’s, we are once again affected by the changes, as we will be getting our 3rd assistant pastor in 3 years.  It’s not a bad thing, as our church is looked at as one of the most dynamic in our archdiocese and a great place for priests to gain valuable experience in a large parish and thus hone their ministry craft.

In reflecting on this upcoming transition, I started to relate it to youth ministry (surprise, surprise).  In particular, it underscored for me the importance of having a good transition plan in place when a parish youth ministry coordinator or youth minister moves on…for whatever reason.

It’s happened before:  a popular, highly-competent and highly-effective youth ministry coordinator leaves a parish and youth ministry seemingly leaves with her.  The parish is apparently caught off-guard (even though it knew this day was coming) and youth ministry has a hard time recovering, if at all.  All because the church’s youth ministry efforts were tied directly to its leader and not to the community.

Part of my role is to aid in this vital transition period so youth ministry doesn’t fall off the map in both the eyes of the pastor and the church community.  Thus, I offer three ways to ensure that youth ministry doesn’t leave with the outgoing youth minister.

1.  Mentoring.  Youth ministry is a prime opportunity for solid mentoring and leadership development.  Even the best youth ministers know that they aren’t going to be around forever; the smartest ones will realize this before it’s too late.  A strong leader should be able to identify and perhaps even groom one or two people to take his spot…without feeling threatened.  Leadership always needs to be evolving….otherwise our ministry isn’t growing.

2.  Create a Job Description and Procedures.  You might be turned off by reading this one thinking that it’s way too much work.  Realize that I’m not talking about lengthy, complicated, air-tight dissertations here.  But I am talking about concise, pointed documents that will bring consistency and transparency to the ministry.  Thus, I encourage you to spend some time creating some of these documents.  The last thing you want to happen is for someone to leave and to take all of the “trade secrets” with her.

3.  Know what you are doing and why.  If we are truly doing our job as youth ministers of leading young people to an encounter with Jesus Christ, then it shouldn’t matter just who on the team is doing it.  Ideally, young people will relate youth ministry to a multitude of people rather than to just one person.  Youth ministry is more than one pastor, one priest, or one youth minister.  We’ll know we’re doing it right when a prominent leader leaves yet the young people stay.

I pray that all of our youth ministries are designed so young people relate their leaders to youth ministry, and not the other way around.  That way, when it’s indeed someone’s time to move on, young people will be able to see that it’s a natural part of growth and evolution.

Then it won’t be so hard to say goodbye.