Letter To My Younger Youth Worker Self (Part 3)

Rick Bartlett
March 6th, 2019

The night was a flop. What happened??? It was supposed to go so much better than this. 

I worked hard on the youth group meeting. I had prepped the games, worked hours on the Bible study, and created an application so the youth could live out the lesson during the week. I felt confident it would be a great night. 

It wasn’t. The game didn’t work like I thought it would; in fact, on the relay two kids crashed into one another and were (slightly) hurt. Students gave blank stares as I walked through the Bible lesson, and the discussion fell flat. No one would respond to my brilliantly worded questions. Beyond discouraged, as I drove home from the church that night, I seriously contemplated a career change. 

The next morning, looking for comfort, I shared my frustration with Bruce, my supervisor. He simply said, “Look at the long view. Don’t judge yourself or your ministry by how a specific night or event went, think longer term.” To be honest, as he shared this with me, a person who had been in full-time youth ministry for 3 months, I just didn’t get it. His Yoda-like answer didn’t help me feel any better. However, as I left scratching my head, I also knew he spoke with wisdom borne from experience. Prior to his role as Associate Pastor at the church we worked in together, he had been a youth pastor at a different church for 12 years (which in the 1980’s was about as rare as a unicorn). I knew he wasn’t just making it up to make me feel better (and keep me doing my job). 

His advice did help me to let go of my emotions about the disastrous night. As Paul says in Philippians 3:13, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” Moving forward, I sought to apply this passage as I began to prep for the next week. 

Over the months and years, I realized Bruce was right. I needed to flip the flop into part of the weekly rhythm, and over time I could see growth and life developing  in the lives of the students. The broader perspective allowed me to see subtle changes I had missed from week to week. 

At the time of the flop, I was looking for a quick fix. I was looking for students to be instantly transformed by the amazing teaching I brought (looking back, I’m embarrassed by my pride- that’s another Note to my Young Self). I needed to learn that God’s timing for growth is much different than ours. God is content to shape and mould us over time. Sure there are moments of quicker transformation at places like camp, mission trips, or major life events, but in general we are all growing slowly and steadily to be more like Jesus. As Eugene Peterson’s book title puts it, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Now, with 30+ years to reflect on, I see the tremendous wisdom in Bruce’s words. Look at the long view of the work you’re doing. Be patient and keep going. 

Questions to consider: 

  1. What are the little things that you can celebrate in your life and ministry? 
  2. How would taking the long view provide hope for you right now? 
  3. Take 20 minutes one day at work to sketch out a long view of your ministry. This isn’t a visioning exercise looking forward as much as looking back. How and where have you seen God at work over the past months or years? 
  4. Who can you share this concept with? 


Written by Rick Bartlett – you can reach out to Rick here at rickb@tabor.edu

Rick Bartlett

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.