Everything has its Season - Stepping Away | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
February 2013

Everything has its Season - Stepping Away

By Chris Wilterdink
Much of the Christian world took note this morning as Pope Benedict XVI announced his planned retirement date of February 28, 2013. The full text version of his resignation announcement can be found HERE These lines caught my eye: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me." What a statement of courage to share this announcement, recognize one's limitations, and make way for new leadership. Reading this announcement and the corresponding articles through my filter as a youth leader these questions arose: - "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God..." How often do we examine our conscience before God? Often, I've been guilty of getting trapped into the 'doing of ministry' as opposed to the 'being in ministry' aspects of working with young people and their families. If I don't take time to review my heart and conscience with God, how can I tell that I am still in the right place with the right spirit? - "Ministry must be carried out with words and deeds, prayer and suffering..." How do we carry out our ministry? Young people respond to authentic leaders who do what they say, say what they mean, and have active spiritual lives. Can I ask more of someone than I myself give? - "Today's world 'changes rapidly' [and is] shaken by questions...for the life of faith" Not news to youth leaders, the world changes quickly and staying relevant is a core challenge of any ministry with young people. How do we respond to change, <initiate change?> and encourage our young people to live a life of deep faith? Those questions aside, the Pope's announcement showcases a moment in the life of a ministry that is hugely important - a change in leadership. So called 'changes at the top' can be difficult and should be planned for if possible. Knowing when it is time to step aside, and how to do it gracefully, is key to ministry. It's not a new challenge either - look at David's struggles at the end of his reign in I Kings 1:1-31! 1. Know your heart and mind. <examine your conscience before God> Take some introspective time to discern your readiness to serve in the ministry you are called to lead. Remember - it is not your ministry, it is instead God's ministry that you are called to lead for a time. Feelings of exhaustion and burn-out are normal experiences for leaders of young people, but those feelings can overwhelm judgement without taking the time to pray, center, and be honest with yourself. 2. Converse with Your Key Leaders. <ministry must be carried out> The ministry you lead rests on the shoulders of other adults and youth who take part in leadership within your group. These conversations should only be with a small group of honest and trusted individuals. Talk with them about your feelings, they may have perspectives that will re-energize you! They may also confirm your feeling and want to support the transition for you and for your group. Who knows, they may even have a new way for you to be in ministry that you hadn't discovered yet! 3. Have a Succession Plan. A succession plan doesn't mean knowing who the next leader will be, but ensures that their is a plan/process in place so that the ministry you've given yourself to doesn't end. Ministry is bigger than the individual, and healthy ministries continue to develop and thrive even if their leadership changes. Converse with a senior pastor or a trusted staff committee person about what a succession plan looks like for any leader in the church! Once a plan or process is in place, stick with it and honor it. 4. Start saying good byes. If you've prayed about it, feel right about it in your heart, have conversed with key leadership and have a succession plan in place - you can start sharing the news about your transition. In general, people don't like to be surprised by bad news, but appreciate having the time to grieve and celebrate with you in times of transition. None of these steps are easy, but as evidenced by the Pope's retirement announcement this morning there is an appropriate time to give other leaders a chance for the sake of healthy ministry.
Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.