“My students” and “my ministry” are expressions of sincere ownership youth workers use. But to whom do your students really belong? Who called you to ministry in the first place? Who truly makes life change possible? It really is tough to be called by God to minister to students and not feel a sense of pride and ownership. However, pride is one of the “seven deadly sins” that can destroy your ministry.
Starting with pride makes sense because it has been treated historically as the starting point for all the other sins in life. It is probably the sin that for which youth workers are best known.
Put a group of youth workers together and it isn’t long before someone asks, “How many students do you work with?” Everyone does it. It comes as naturally as asking “What’s your major?” when in college. The comparison game is the measuring stick for notoriety in youth ministry and a lot want to be notorious.
Pride affects young youth workers straight out of school who sometimes think God has called them to change youth ministry forever or to be the savior of the church to which they have been called. However, it is also an issue for veterans because the longer they are in ministry, the more they are able to rely on their experience more than God; or they face the danger of believing that they are something special because they have a track record of success.
It is one thing to feel good about what God is doing through you and with the students in your church community. Pride becomes an issue when you allow your interests and ego to become the idol to which you bow. How do you know when you have crossed that line? How do you walk in humble submission to your Savior and Lord Jesus Christ without being a mealy mouthed wimp?
This hits home
Pride is the excessive belief in and reliance in your own abilities, to the point that there is no room for God, no recognition of His involvement in your ministry. Sometimes youth workers think they can do it all.
This hits home for me because I struggle with balance in this area. When ministry is going well it is truly hard for me not to get a big head. When students are sending incredible notes and parents pat me on the back, it is hard not to fall into the trap of thinking I am special.
Frankly, praise and recognition can be addictive. The praise of others sets youth workers up to create ministry opportunities that will make the youth pastor look good and provide the next hit. Then they spend their time moving from ministry hit to ministry hit. On Sunday they are on top of the world, and on Monday when there is a critical note because the church van has a scratch, they hit rock bottom.
Because humans love the praise that comes with ministry, youth workers who struggle with pride have difficulty giving ministry away. No one can lead games like they do, and no one can teach like they do, and no one can connect with students like they do. They are super pastor. We are super pastor.
This way of thinking will lead to a small ministry, burn out, and possibly moral failure. Youth workers who think they can do it all end up trying to do it. When they finally realize they cannot do it all, they end up pushing the eject button of moral failure rather than admit they can’t do it. Or they wake up one day and decide they have been “called” somewhere else, so that they can go somewhere and repeat the process.
Youth workers who are filled with pride find that they have a hard time getting others involved. They love our own work so much they can’t bear to give ministry away. Giving ownership of ministry to others also means giving away credit. Volunteers around us end up feeling like there is no useful role for them other than “crowd control”, and quickly find better things to do where their gifts can be used and appreciated. Arrogant prideful people don’t have followers for long, so they are often left with few volunteers. When this happens the pride filled youth workers, they throw up their hands and buy the lie that others don’t appreciate what they have going on. Instead, they choose to just do it themselves and the cycle perpetuates itself.
Pride-filled youth workers miss amazing opportunities placed before them by God to expand their ministry. When I worked in para-church ministry, I used to tell area youth workers that I considered it my job to serve them and to make their job easier because I believed in the Church. My goal was to create opportunities to connect students to their ministries. One youth pastor actually told me, “I think we are doing a good enough job of outreach.” What a relief it was for me to know that every student in that community was being reached by his church!
Because of this experience, when I became a youth pastor, I vowed that I would never take such opportunities for granted. In fact, since being a youth worker at a church, I have offered myself, my facilities, and other things to more than one campus minister only to never be taken up on my offers. Instead, I watch other campus ministries compete with and pull students from our church’s ministry. When people are filled with pride, there is a danger of looking down on other ministries thereby missing a kingdom opportunity that is presented to them gift wrapped and all. Along with this comes the idea that it has to be their “thing”. There is no way they would take their students to that “thing” because they did not come up with it or it is not from their denomination. Their “thing” is not our “thing”; therefore, it’s inferior. Pride keeps people from seeing God at work in the His Kingdom.
Losing the respect of parents is another consequence of pride. I remember fulfilling my counseling internship in graduate school and then sitting across from a couple that had been married for 15 years; they were eagerly looking for marital counsel from a 22 year-old single guy. Looking back on that incident seems silly to me now. When a youth worker is full of pride, they can even look down on how a family handles their children by grounding them from youth group and other punishments that seem wrong. The idea of a 25 year-old youth worker giving parenting advice to a forty year-old couple with teenagers is just as ridiculous as my counseling experience.
Pride truly does come before a fall because a youth worker full of pride will look around and find that no one is following them.
Avoiding the fall…
The call is not yours. A pastor’s heart is not something that you have; it is something that God gives you. God’s call should not be something that puffs you up and inflates your ego. It is something you should not take lightly. A call from God to ministry means higher accountability when you one day stand before the Father. A call followed means sacrifice. Ask God to make your calling clear and real. You don’t want to find yourself in the struggle of ministry if you are not called to be there in the first place. A call means exactly what Jesus said when He said that you must lay down your own life in order to save it. He creates in you the desire to minister. You are not God’s gift to youth ministry. Youth ministry is God’s gift to you.
The students are not yours. They are not your students and it is not your ministry. You were placed you are to serve them in Christ’s name. Once you really understand this, it will change how you see your students and it will change how you see your role in ministry. The students belong to God and He has called you to minister to them. This is the essence of the picture provided by Jesus in John 13 as He washed the disciples’ feet. Washing their feet was not the amazing act–it was Who was doing the washing that was amazing. When you serve the adults and students in your ministry, you are bringing the story to life. The act of listening to a student in pain after youth group is just part of the job, but Christ-in-you listening is what makes it amazing.</span>
If you want to avoid the fall of pride, allow yourself to be surprised by power and courage of the supernatural. You do not have the strength to do it all. God uses us because He set it up that way. He uses His people to call and grow and develop His people. You cannot come up with enough games or the most unbelievable illustration or the perfect discussion that will change anything. Change and the power to change come from the Holy Spirit. The courage to face struggle comes from the Holy Spirit. He chooses to use you sometimes in spite of you. He can use the most bumbled talk to change the heart of a student forever. He does not need you, but He wants to use you. If God does not do it, it is not going to happen. Have you looked at your job description lately? Having said all that, God uniquely crafted you to be His agent for change. There is something true, good, and beautiful about being a part of His plan for His kingdom.
In Matthew 23 , Jesus railed against religious leaders who looked good on the outside but were decaying on the inside. He called them white-washed tombs because they did all the right things and put on the perfect front, while on the inside they were spiritually bankrupt. Pride in your ministry, and wanting to be the best there is will drive you to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons leaving your empty on the inside. The Pharisees did what they did to gain the praise of others and seats of honor at the banquet table. What they did became an empty ritual, a means to an end. Jesus saw that their hearts were empty and called them hypocrites. He condemned them not only for chasing ritual instead of a relationship with the Father, but because they piled those expectations on others. Jesus tells us to stop. Jesus says to be still and know that He is God. Jesus says to take His burden for it is light. It is time to stop chasing the idol of prestige and rest in a Savior who can breathe new life into your white-washed tomb.
It’s not that you can’t feel good about following God. In fact, you should be at peace following the call God has given you. Avoiding pride means remembering that every breath you have is a gift from God. It means remembering that you belong to the sovereign God who loves you and loves His people and wants to use you to minister to them. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. You also cannot do this alone. If you are going to be in ministry for the long haul, you need someone trustworthy and wise to speak truth into your life. Pride can be a blind sin; and you need someone to hold a mirror in your face every now and again.
Take a deep breath. Invite God to give you a clear call to be His instrument. Ask God to help you see the students as He sees them. Ask God to help you to rest on the power of His Holy Spirit and thank Him that He has invited you to be a part of bringing heaven to earth.