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When Youth Ministers are Forced into 'Survival Mode'

When Youth Ministers are Forced into 'Survival Mode'

"You must be really good at your job," my father-in-law said the other day. I was confused. My current job is as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant. "Not the food stuff," he followed up, "the youth ministry stuff." My last youth ministry job ended nearly a year ago, so my confusion continued and I asked him to clarify. His response floored me... "Because the devil is working really hard to keep you out of church work."

He's right. I have been in survival mode for the past year. I've scrubbed toilets, unloaded tractor trailers in the middle of the night, and most recently sold chicken and waffle fries; all in the name of providing for my family and despite the call to youth ministry I felt over 10 years ago. Of course, I still think about youth ministry constantly. It's what I studied in college. I have almost 8 years of experience as a paid youth leader, but something has been keeping me away.

Truthfully, I still have a lot of pain and anger about the way my last ministry job had ended. My immediate response when it happened was to apply for youth ministry jobs all over the country, and the subsequent months of emails and phone interviews led to nothing but disappointment and a rapidly decreasing self-confidence. I had a lot of thoughts during that time. I questioned my ability, my call, and the purpose of ministry, but not once did I think that I was actually good at youth ministry.

Even when I was in the midst of ministry I rarely thought, "Man, I am really good at my job." I recall many times thinking that I was the wrong person for the job or that I was holding the ministry back. In hindsight, there was no supporting evidence for my self-demeaning thoughts, yet I still spent a lot of time placing blame on myself, never once thinking that it could be the devil working to discourage me.

Men and women in youth ministry have a unique call. It is less about preaching and more about having a meaningful conversation over a slice of pizza and Mountain Dew. One of the most common questions we face is, "So, what is it that you do exactly?" (A nice way of asking "why are we paying you?") The answer is not always easy, because on the surface "playing putt-putt and going to football games" sounds more like a teenager's facebook profile than it does a job description.

As youth leaders, our jobs are not easily graded or evaluated. In a lot of ways that makes it terribly easy for thoughts of self-doubt to creep in. We end up getting focused on tangible things like numbers, and when the results aren't there, we conclude that we're bad at our job. The truth is, our work is planting seeds that often won't bear fruit for years. That can make it extremely hard for others to see the value in what we do; and in the worst cases, we begin to question why we're doing it.

When that happens, you can just start going through the motions of ministry. You can take your job description at face-value, playing putt-putt and eating pizza, but never going any deeper. It's a lot simpler that way. Or you can end up like me. Here I sit, almost a year removed from my last youth ministry job, settling for a job because it's simple. I've even found myself thinking how nice it is to come home after a shift and not be burdened with work because all I'm doing is selling chicken. Only recently (thanks to my father-in-law's statement) am I realizing that this is right where the devil wants me... and you. He'd rather have us selling chicken any day.

Don't let the devil whisper words of discouragement in your ear. He knows what your work is doing and he's afraid of it. He would much rather have you evaluating visible results, instead of faithfully looking towards the unforeseen future. While you may not see it yourself, he knows that your investment in the lives of teens can lead towards a generation of young people who are genuinely seeking God with their whole hearts.

That can only happen if we devote ourselves to the difficult work of youth ministry. But that's what we're called to. It's what we're good at, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise.


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Publication date: December 30, 2011