Regardless of how you got into youth ministry, I think there is one thing you and I have in common.
We began in ministry because we love Jesus. In your life, you’ve had some encounter, experience, or insight that made it clear to you that Jesus will always be the G.O.A.T. (Does anyone say G.O.A.T.?)
Unfortunately, you and I often forget something important, and our perspective becomes blurred. What do I mean?
Our first day of ministry sounds like this, “I am here because I love Jesus.”
Our following days of ministry sound more like this, “I am loved by Jesus if I succeed in this ministry.”
Now, I know. You would not verbalize that phrase- at least not out loud.
Friends, I know this feeling. You know this feeling. We both know what this looks like in our lives.
When you have a conversation with another youth pastor, and their success does something within you. You feel inferior or envious. Maybe you wonder why you haven’t had the same sort of success.
You feel the need to brag, not merely because you are excited, but because you need others to see how good you are at youth ministry.
When you work all the time and cannot put away your thoughts about ministry- because it is who you are. The youth pastor identity has taken over all of your life.
Or maybe it looks like you, feeling deflated when twenty-five students show up instead of thirty.
A trusted student doesn’t’ follow-through with their commitment. Yes, you are frustrated; they should keep their commitment. But you feel something stronger. It feels personal.
You begin to take it all personally. You question your validity as a youth pastor or volunteer.
Eventually, you and I, we fall into the trap of questioning our value. Suddenly the spiral begins, and our thoughts sound like this:
Students don’t show up. Leaders don’t volunteer. Our group is not as large as their group. I wish we had a band. My preaching must not be good enough. I must not be good enough. If they are doing such great things for Jesus, and I am not, then I must not be enough for Jesus.
Friends, we fall into this trap far too often. I have had my moments in that place. I am sure you have had moments of these experiences. Our head knows that Jesus loves us regardless of our success in ministry, but our hearts forget.
Jesus has not called you or asked you into a life of forgetting that first; you are a beloved child of God.
How do we get out of this place? How do you get back to remembering why you got into ministry in the first place?
A few thoughts that may be of help to you.
Put it away.
Ministry needs to stay, as much as possible, out of your house and family.
When you leave the church, say a prayer. Your prayer could be something like this.
“God, I’m leaving this here and trusting you. I am trusting you to continue your work as I go home. I am going to leave everything here so I can be fully present with my family.”
Yes, there are times you will need to address ministry needs at home. But make that the exception.
Give your spiritual life room to breath.
We know this, our prep time for teaching often becomes the full extent of our spiritual development.
You can do this for a little while. Eventually though, if you are not filling your spiritual gas tank, it will run on empty.
Make room for your spiritual development. Prioritize it. Manage your schedule well so that you can make time.
You may even want to block off time on your calendar. If someone wants to meet with you, say, “I’m sorry, I am unavailable during that time. Can we try another time?”
Do not apologize and do not feel guilty for creating time for your spiritual development.
Seek out a counselor.
When you find yourself in a place that you forget who you are, you may need the help of a guide.
I strongly recommend a trained, Christian counselor. If that is not an option for you, find a friend. A trusted friend that you can explore what you are feeling.
Seeking the advice of a counselor can refresh you, remind you of what matters, and give you a renewed sense of value.
There are many other ways to find your way back to who you truly are. Read. The book, Life of the Beloved may be an excellent place to start. Journal. Pray constantly. Go on a retreat or take a sabbatical.
Friends, your identity is not in what you produce in ministry. You are meant for more than that kind of shallow living.
Rev. Brian Lawson is the Director of Leadership Development and Client Services for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. He also serves as a pastor in the Florida Conference of the UMC. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.