I know it sounds controversial but I stand by the statement, "Real youth leaders NEVER leave youth ministry!"
Sure, they may change their job titles. They may become lead pastors or church planters but they never really leave youth ministry. They become youth pastors with authority or, what I have come to nickname them "youth pastors with lead pastor clothes on."
As I went from a youth leader, to a church planter, to a preaching pastor, I never left youth ministry. Although I didn't actually lead the youth group meetings, I led the youth pastor. I made sure he was headed in the right direction and had what he needed to accomplish the vision God had put in his heart.
I also had his back when people would complain. If a little old lady complained about the stain that the teenagers in the youth group left on the carpet I'd remind her about the stains that were removed from their souls as a result of the youth leader giving the Gospel in the youth meeting. I'd then remind her that if she tithed more we could remove those stains from the carpet.
As I reflect back to my pastor growing up, Ralph "Yankee" Arnold, I can't help but remember him as a youth pastor with lead pastor clothes on. On Sunday morning he would remind the adults that they were there to fund the youth ministry. Sure he ministered to the adults too. He preached to them, counseled them and equipped them. But down deep inside his passion was for the next generation. Why? Because they came to Christ quicker and spread the Gospel faster! Yankee was a youth pastor at heart!
And this is not just true for youth pastors who become lead pastors. It's also true for youth leaders who take a "secular job" to support their families and reach a different mission field.
I can't help but think of my good friend, Corey Best. He was a youth pastor in Breckenridge, Colorado over twelve ago. He came to Dare 2 Share every year with the teenagers in his youth ministry. He really bought off on the Gospel Advancing philsophy of reaching and discipling teenagers and his youth group grew as a result. But then he moved to Switzerland to take a job in the "real world."
But Corey and his family never really left youth ministry. They got involved in a church plant and started a ministry to train young and old alike how to share the Gospel. They mobilized young people for gospel action everywhere they went.
For the last three years, Corey and his lovely family have attended Lead THE Cause in Denver and have helped to take Dare 2 Share's impact international in a powerful and practical way. He has done this all while successfully working at a high end international company.
Corey never really left youth minstry. He's simply now a well-connected, fully-resourced youth leader who travels the world and leverages his influence to reach the next generation for Christ.
So don't tell youth pastors who are leaving youth ministry that in some way they are flaking out (although some of them may be.) Instead, encourage them to stay in youth ministry and leverage their influence to reach even more teenagers for Jesus.
Real youth leaders never leave youth ministry!