I was recently talking with a Youth Pastor friend. He told me a story about someone who felt called to full time Youth Ministry work and wanted to intern with him. My buddy took on the young man for about two months. At the end of two months the intern shared a couple observations. 1) He knew he wasn’t called to full-time youth ministry. 2) In his estimation Christian youth ministry work is some of the most emotionally challenging work on the planet.
Now the experience of one intern doesn’t make a hard fast rule, but I suspect that the intern’s observation resonates with you. I know that my own experience of youth ministry has left me feeling exhausted, hurt, burdened, lost, and ready to quit on more than one occasion. Within youth ministry there are tons of opportunities to encounter personal failure and discouragement. It can be hard to discern the value of our efforts and see their impact. Carrying love in your hearts for teens and then seeing many of them run toward sin brings a heartache and discouragement that is hard to avoid.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 the Apostle Paul writes about his many trials and burdens. He lists imprisonment, whippings, stoning, hunger, nakedness, and shipwreck. Then to his many physical sufferings Paul adds the emotional burden and pain of caring for people who are wayward and struggling. If you’re like me, you haven’t experienced the whippings and imprisonment, but that emotional toll of pastoral ministry that Paul talks about is very familiar.
Let me share with you a few practical practices that have helped me on my journey.
Learn to Grieve Disappointments
Ministry is full of little disappointments. You prepare a sermon and then walk away feeling like it was a flop. You invest everything in a teen only to have them walk away from the Lord. You prepare for a big event and for some reason half the people your expected didn’t show up. A parent calls you up to let you know that you’re failing their teenager and they expected more from you. These are the daily disappointments we encounter.
About a year ago I realized that I never let myself grieve these daily disappointments of ministry. I would feel them, but then I would stuff them somewhere inside and never acknowledging how they impacted me. Without thinking about it I tried to shrug these things off telling myself they weren’t a big deal, when in reality all of them were adding up. I was carrying unresolved pain, frustration, and grief around in my heart.
I knew that failing to process grief after a catastrophic loss like the death of a loved one was unhealthy, but I didn’t realize how necessary it is to grieve the “little deaths” that we experience almost daily.
Dealing with daily disappointments can be as simple as stopping for a moment to honestly acknowledge how we feel about something negative that happened, giving ourselves permission to feel the way we feel, and then inviting God into the grief with us so we can experience his comfort.
Take Sabbath Rest
I am becoming more and more convinced of God’s intentional design in the sacred rhythm between work and rest. Our society doesn’t value it, but God makes the rhythm between work and rest central to creation. It’s an amazing gift that God commands us to set aside time in our lives for rest, delighting in Him, and delighting in His creation. I’ve gone through seasons where I completely forgot how to delight in God. I forgot how to celebrate the life He gave me. Running at a frantic pace set by our American culture I let the most precious gift of intimacy with God get snuffed out by other things.
I’m afraid that we get addicted to the rush of business and the thrill of seeing our plans succeed. We work and strive, strive and work, until we find ourselves overwhelmed by life and disconnected from God.
It takes intentional planning and firm commitment to keep space free for Sabbath rest but God honors it and life is found there.
Connect to Your Priestly Calling
As youth pastors and youth ministers we are called to minister to people. It’s a central part of our mandate. However, it’s not the only part. We are also called to minister to Jesus through worship and prayer. We are called not only to serve Christ’s Bride but also to be a friend to the Bridegroom.
Old Testament priests ministered to the Israelite people by offering sacrifices as intermediaries between God and man, but they also ministered to God Himself through burning incense, offering sacrifices, and leading worship.
It’s possible for us to become so consumed with the needs of people that we lose sight of our highest calling to minister to God Himself. The needs of people will always be there. We can’t respond to every one. If we live our lives ruled by the needs of people, we will never give place for the important work of ministering to God by giving Him the worship and friendship that He desires from us.
As I close out, let me remind you that Elim Fellowship is here to serve you. We pray regularly for the youth ministers who are connected to us and we invite you to reach out to us with any needs you have.
Josiah is a lover of Jesus, husband, and father. He and his wife Laura serve as the youth pastors at Zion Fellowship in Canandaigua, NY. They strive to love and serve teenagers in the same way Jesus does. Josiah has a passion for preaching God's Word and calling young people to authentic Christian living. Josiah has ministry credentials through Elim Fellowship and serves on the Elim Fellowship Youth Committee.