Tom Shefchunas

Hooks and Anchors

by on in Leadership, Small Groups, Strategy.

A few years ago, one of my good friends and co-workers announced that he was leaving his job as a Middle School Director. If you’ve seen this go down before, you’ll probably be surprised by my next statement.

When he announced he was leaving, it was no big deal to the volunteers he announced it to! 

For my friend, it probably would have been good for the ol’ ego if there had been weeping and gnashing of teeth, but, you know what?

His volunteers’ response (or lack thereof) is actually an indicator that he did a great job!

One of my biggest pet peeves in youth ministry is when a young leader gets a promotion and moves on, while their former youth program dies.

I’s not that I think the leader shouldn’t have taken the promotion.

It’s not that I think youth pastors need to stay in their current contexts, or even stay youth pastors, forever.

Let’s face it.

  1. Youth ministry is tough work, and there are few who can do it for years at a time.
  2. Youth pastors are often thought of as the minor leagues for “The Big Show.” The system has developed in such a way that youth pastors are sometimes seen as the future leadership of “adult” church. I’d love to go on here, but this is a topic for another time.

So… back to the issue at hand.

Why do we see this pattern across the country? A new person comes in, the youth ministry grows, that person leaves, and the youth ministry starts dying… waiting for the next big personality to come in and help it grow again.

Come to think of it…why is that the pattern we see in the church in general?

Youth pastors, I think the problem here is us!

We can be pretty cool. We are relational, so people are attracted to us. We have a vision, so people are inspired by us. We are creative and do a bunch of interesting new things, so people like to come see what we do. People dig us.

And therein lies the problem… right there in front of our eyes. It’s us.

When we set ourselves up as the “hook” for our programs, people show up because of us, our personalities, our vision, our whatever. But we can’t be the “anchor.” We can’t be the reason kids continue to come back. It simply won’t work.

You can’t be the “anchor” for your ministry or every kid and volunteer in your ministry. You can only be the “anchor” for a few.

In my world at Transit, we decided that our anchor is going to be the Small Group Leader. The only thing that is consistent every week is the same Small Group Leader with the same group of kids. We alternate speakers, hosts, and worship leaders every week… but the Small Group Leader stays the same for three years!

So, when my friend, who was a director at one of our campuses, announced he was leaving, it was not a big deal! It was crazy. The program didn’t miss a beat when a new “hook” came in. It kept on keeping on.

The truth is, when I leave one day, the show will go on the same way. I hope.

I’m not saying it will be easy on my ego. But in the end, it’s really a pretty cool thing.

Great speakers (the hooks) come into our Middle School Ministry and then go on to do great things on bigger stages. Great bands (also hooks) minister to our kids, are developed, and head on to “Big Church.” I love it when that happens… and when it does, Middle School Ministry keeps growing and doesn’t miss a beat!

So, youth pastor… I hope you are incredibly talented, passionate, and an amazing vision-caster. But remember: you may be a great hook… but it’s not about you.

It can’t be about you.

Is your ministry built around a hook or an anchor? What are you doing to make sure your ministry outlives you?

  • Mt4jesus

    Awesome post Pastor Tom. I do have one question if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at it.
    I am at a start up church. We are 4 years old and have some amazing “Connect Group” leaders. These leaders are our middle school anchors. My question is how do you communicate the vision to your anchors. I really enjoy learning different ways to celebrate and communicate vision with leaders. Thank again.

  • TylerStill

    Thanks so much for this. I am a young middle school pastor that needed to hear this.

  • Phil

    Thanks for sharing this, Tom. I want so badly to let go of this ministry (while still being the Middle School Youth Pastor), but then what am I to do? I know in my heart I don’t want this to be about me, and I don’t want this ministry to ever “die” because I leave–not that I intend to. Literally, I need to know what will I be doing if I pass off roles to my volunteers? Will I simply be in the background as a resource for them to go to? Am I just the one who casts the vision, and encourages their growth (not that that’s a small thing!), while they do all the physical and spiritual work with the kids, and for the ministry? The pressure I feel internally is, ‘I’m the one getting paid for this–I need to be doing all the work. I can’t ask a volunteer to do this!” But, I know more empowering will make more committed volunteers, and build permanent relationships that God will use to grow our ministry and church. Thanks for your help!

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