Do Not Lose Heart
On a very warm evening last July, standing in the Thompson-Boling Arena at the University of Tennessee, I was overwhelmed and deeply honored to witness something powerful, holy, and transformational. Teenagers from across the United States and Canada had come together on a journey—some had just committed their lives to Jesus, and others were committing that they would go out into the world and build God’s kingdom. Everything the Holy Spirit did that evening was awe-inspiring.
Every three years our denomination hosts an event for high school youth called Covenant High In Christ, or CHIC. The Evangelical Covenant denomination isn’t as large as some other denominations—we have fewer than 900 churches—but our heart for youth ministry beats strong and is a leading value and passion in our congregations.
CHIC officially began in 1956 when a group of leaders passionate about youth ministry organized the first event. It has a long history of bringing teenagers together with the goal that God might transform their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. For decades, CHIC has been a movement that has impacted our entire denomination.
In that moment last July, I couldn’t help but think of all the youth workers who over many decades had poured into this Godly vision for teenagers—thousands and thousands of youth workers who were passionate to see justice in the world, passionate to see a Holy-Spirit-inspired youth movement, passionate to be obedient to the calling on their lives, and who did whatever they could to help teenagers find and follow Jesus.
The words of Isaiah 57:14 are rich in this context:
“Build up, build up, prepare the road. Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
We all stand on the shoulders of the generations of youth workers that have gone before us in this calling to youth ministry. We have many people to thank for paving the way.
What’s truly remarkable to me is that the most incredible and yet simple truth about those individuals is this: they were willing.
They were willing to be obedient to the calling of God.
They were willing to build up pathways for teenagers to find Jesus.
They were willing—sometimes at great expense—to remove those things that blocked teenagers from following Jesus.
In this, they share a similar calling and passion to that which we read about in Isaiah.
You know this story: Isaiah lived and served in a time when it was incredibly difficult to follow God. Israel was dealing with deep political uncertainty, social injustice, and significant apathy toward the things of God. In addition, Isaiah had his own doubts, fears, and insecurities in his calling. Does that sound at all familiar?
We also serve in a time that has many of the same characteristics of Isaiah’s day and age. And here we are with a mandate and calling to “Build up, build up, prepare the road. . . . ”
Do not lose heart.
Do not lose focus on your calling.
Like those before us, we have an incredible opportunity to participate in the work of God in and around our communities. And might I even suggest that you practice what you preach: You’re capable of building the kingdom of God in this ever challenging and changing landscape of youth ministry. God has uniquely gifted and called you to be a part of this youth ministry movement. You’re incredibly valuable to God and to the work the Holy Spirit is doing in this world.
So when you face the unique challenges of youth ministry, remember that God has uniquely gifted you and invited you to be a vital part of the redemptive mission in the world of teenagers. Do not stop. Keep following the Spirit’s lead, hear the voice of the Lord, and be reminded of your calling: “Build up, build up, prepare the road. Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
Tim Ciccone is the director of youth ministry for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He has a deep passion to serve and encourage youth workers everywhere. He loves to retweet things: @timciccone. He’s father to four beautiful children and husband to Maria. He’s also the author of In Transit: A Youth Workers Guide to Navigating a New Beginning.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.