Surviving The Up’s And Down’s Of Youth Ministry
Today I cried in my office three times. Three times. Sunday night I walked out of my church at 8:50 PM and reminded myself that you don’t quit on Mondays. A phrase my wise coach, Tony Akers, taught me. This week alone I have dealt with parents calling to tell me of the heartbreaking situation their child is in, college students calling at 10 PM for life chats, people in and out of my office with no announcements or warning, and a lot of fatigue. I’ve sat in my office with the sun streaming in, because at least I have an office with windows, and asked myself why I ever thought I was equipped or called to youth ministry. Being a person is hard and being a person in the ministry is hard too.
Youth ministry is a constant rollercoaster of emotion, exhaustion and stress that doesn’t often have the benefit of great pay. Our jobs look so fun on the outside, but some days it feels like you are waist deep in the brokenness of your students and their families and can’t even move if you tried. Youth ministry, plain and simple, is hard sometimes. But here’s the thing that should keep us going; we are doing good work, whether or not we can see that goodness. Here are the things that I want to remind myself and you when ministry feels undoable.
Joy comes in the morning.
A few years ago I was in a coaching session (side note: coaches are awesome and you can/should find one to help you). I was telling my coach about a particularly troublesome senior with whom I was counting down the days until his graduation. This was another one of those weeks where I started out the session saying, “Steven did this….” Tony, tired of hearing about Steven, went back to an old mantra from Psalm 30, “Joy comes in the morning.”
What he was saying was whatever situation you find yourself in with a student or the church; it isn’t going to last forever. Steven graduated, meetings with parents happen, Sunday nights end and eventually it is all okay. The weeping, it seems, really does last for just a night.
Sometimes it is what it is.
A few years ago I had a situation in which a student got in trouble on a trip and we, in a search for accountability, handled the situation all wrong. We were harsh when grace was needed and it ended up pushing the student away.
I cannot tell you how many youth ministers have a story that goes something like that. Losing a student due to conflict is a messy situation that evokes feelings of guilt and heartbreak. I felt like my actions caused this student harm in her relationship with God and the church. However, I constantly have to check myself when the ministry guilt hits me in the gut.
Did I do what I thought was best at the time? Yes.
Was I seeking Christ and trying to minister? Yes.
Is it sad that this student is not in my ministry anymore? Absolutely.
Does the world still spin? Yes.
Sometimes our hard situations are simply what they are. We cannot let difficulty or guilt consume us. We have to take what we can learn about the situation and press forward.
You can only control your own actions.
You know what would be great? If I could control how students behaved, parents communicated, or really just anything that would make my life easier.
But the fact of the matter is that I control my actions and my actions alone. And you know what, I am not even that good at controlling my own actions sometimes. We can control our responses to situations. We can be as grace-filled, loving and kind as possible as we try to usher people in the arms of the Savior. That is it and that has to be enough.
You are not a savior. You do not transform people. God does. God is the one in control of the situations around you. Scripture promises that God works all things for good. So when you start lamenting your lack of control, remind yourself of the good that God is working in your life.
Don’t forget your great cloud of witnesses.
Someone was telling me the other day that they had no one to share the challenges of ministry. They were afraid of offending others with any displeasure at the realities of Church work. So, they didn’t share. I am here to say that, as youth workers, we cannot afford to not talk about these things with others.
Now, I don’t mean that you need to complain to your church members about the senior pastor. Please don’t do that. I am saying that community is important in youth ministry. If you are a lonely youth worker in your town, the chances are that there is another youth worker or church worker in your area who would love to be in community with you.
Find a place to talk about what is going on in your church. Find people you trust and people who will share about their struggles alongside you. Get yourself a cloud of witnesses and do not be afraid to be vulnerable with them!
Also, counseling is a great thing for all people, especially people in ministry. I encourage everyone to be in counseling no matter who you are.
God is faithful, God is faithful, God is faithful.
Y’all, this job is hard. Youth ministry will kick you in the teeth somedays. However, I believe that you are doing youth ministry because God has led you to this place. You are investing in the lives of students because God wants you to be in their lives and point them to Christ.
You are doing the work of God and God is faithful no matter what.
God is good and God calls each of us to participate in God’s goodness.
When I feel like my footing is slipping and I lose sight of God, I tell myself over and over and over again that God is faithful, God is faithful, God is faithful.
A faithful God doesn’t let go.
A faithful God loves the broken and brings about healing.
A faithful God is one who will deliver us from all harm.
God is faithful. That promise is all you need.
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.