give in to discouragement (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

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I’m not worthy.  I feel guilty.  I feel alone.

When I set out to complete this two week blog post series, I had already planned out what the seven sins would be.  Those two weeks ended over two months ago and I am only half way through the series.  A primary reason for the extended time it has taken to continue this series is discouragement: “I can’t do it because I don’t have enough ideas.”  “My writing is lacking in creativity.”  “Who reads this anyway?”

7 deadly sins contentDiscouragement.  It’s a killer of ambition and worth.

Discouragement can come from external sources, like pressure from ministry parents, failure to please everyone (more on that in another post), and lack of volunteer support.

Discouragement can also come from internal sources, like feelings of not being good enough, comparing yourself to others, wanting everything to be perfect.

Discouragement can choke us up and cause us to become paralyzed in ministry, afraid of making a move without judgement coming from someone else or from ourselves.  Doug Fields says, “Discouragement may be the single most powerful feeling that entices great women and men to exit prematurely from youth ministry” (Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, p. 41).  I believe that.  Discouragement can leave us feeling broken and useless, ready to give up at any moment.

But know this: everyone deals with some struggle, some issue, some kind of embarrassment at times.  You are not alone.  While we think we may be the only one who has ever experienced failure, whether real or perceived, we’re wrong.  So many people, including the great men and women of all time, have seen struggles and been discouraged.

And this: find a mentor.  Having someone in our lives who we can look up to, cry to, and go to for advice is crucial.

And don’t forget this: clear the piles.  I recently went through the Inbox in my office, which has been collecting non-urgent letters, ads, magazines, and more since I started at CBC six months ago.  It has been continuing to pile up and everyday stare me in the face and say, “You don’t have enough time.  You can’t do it all.  I’m proof of that!”  Last week, I threw it all away.  I can easily get overwhelmed and discouraged with a pile like that.  We need to de-clutter once in a while.

For more information about discouragement in youth ministry, check out Doug Field’s book “Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry.”

What about you – what helps you from being discouraged in ministry?

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doing it all alone (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

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“I’ve got this!”

A dangerous phrase in ministry.  Of course we need to be confident in who we are and how God has gifted us, but when that leads to always taking and holding tightly to the reign of control, things can get a little rocky.

We like to be in control.  We like to know what’s going on and have our hand in the outcome in some way or every way.  We keep others at arms length and keep each task close at hand.  The intentions are good: to ensure everything runs smoothly.  But the outcome is often unpleasant: stress, broken relationship, or burnout.

This is a lesson I have learned time and time again.  I am an activator, I like to see things happen.  I can have obsessive tendencies when it comes to organization and ideas, and I want to do things right the first time.  Allowing others into a situation or task releases some of my control and hands them control that I may or may not have wanted to give up.  But I can’t do it all alone.  I need people: people to partner with, to delegate to, to bounce ideas off of.

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In Exodus 18, Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law), gave Moses this advice: “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”  Moses was trying to do it alone.  He was trying to be the best leader he could be by retaining control in every situation.  But as Jethro pointed out, Moses could not handle it alone.

Saying, “I’ve got this!” is ignoring the biblical truth that God created each individual with unique gifts and talents.  Trying to do it all alone, whether in ministry, marriage, or any other context, can lead to strained relationships and ultimately personal failure because we are meant to be in community.  Yes, it often causes discomfort to let others share control with us, but it is the way God intended it.

Engage in discomfort with me and share control this week.  Be a true leader and let someone lead with you.  

ignoring parents (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

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Parents don’t know the first thing about ministering to adolescents.  That’s where youth pastors come in: to be the sole resource in these teens’ lives when it comes to knowing God.  After all, we’re the ones with the education, experience, and youthfulness, right?

Despite the constant tug of war (or however you want to describe the perceived relationship between youth pastors and parents), the above statement is dangerous.

No matter how well we think we connect with our students, youth pastors will probably never have as big an influence on adolescents’ lives as their parents.  Study after study shows that parents are still the primary spiritual facilitators of their children’s faith.  Even during the teen years!  Youth ministry is, therefore, a ministry to both youth and their parents.  We need to stop ignoring parents, blaming them when Tommy didn’t show up for youth group last week, and seeing them on the opposite side of the rope in the tug of war battle.

This kind of mental shift takes time, and I like to recite the words of Bob Wiley from the classic movie What About Bob: “Baby steps onto the elevator… baby steps into the elevator… I’m in the elevator!”  Baby steps to talk with parents… baby steps to partner with parents.  Here are four baby steps I have found true in my own context, and I hope they can help others as well: communicate, equip, involve, and encourage.

Communicate: Parents need to stay informed of events, teaching topics, and other things pertinent to the youth ministry program. Communicating with parents about the current teaching series is a way that equips and encourages parents to dialogue with their teens about faith.  Communication also involves listening to parents and trying to understand where they are coming from in order to better partner with them.

Equip: Share resources about adolescence, development, family, and current trends in culture. Parent newsletters, seminars, one-on‐one meetings, and connecting parents with each other are great ways to help parents and the church family navigate the wholistic development of their teenagers. The ministry should also provide opportunities for families to spend time together through corporate worship, sharing meals, and intergenerational community events.

Involve: Involving parents in the ministry can be a significant way to meet the needs of the family.  Depending on the students and the uniqueness of families, parents may be involved in leading teen small groups, serving administratively, or being part of a parent advisory team.

Encourage: In all things, parents need to be encouraged.  Parents deal with many battles and trials, especially when raising teenagers and trying to remain faithful in discipling their children.  Making quick phone calls or sending brief emails of encouragement communicates that they truly matter.

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There is a current trend in youth ministry to partner with parents.  As youth pastors, we need to jump on board, embrace the truth that families matter most, and see our students thrive.  At times, we might feel like responding as Bob Wiley did once the elevator doors closed, screaming, “Ahhhhhh!!!!”.  As long as you’re out of earshot of others, go for it!  Baby steps is about exactly that.  One small step at a time until it has become the new normal.  There will always be bumps along the way, and we can rest in the knowledge that God is with us through it.

over sacrificing (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

7 deadly sins title“I’m looking out for number one!”

Talk about a selfish, un-Christlike phrase!  Aren’t we supposed to be self-sacrificing followers of Christ?  Aren’t we supposed to give of ourselves for the sole purpose of others knowing Christ?  Paul calls us to do this very thing, which has been the banner cry for Christians worldwide: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB).  We’re called to be servant leaders, right?  Emptying of ourselves in order to fill others.

Um… kind of.

The other day, I was reading a book by Brian Berry, in which he talks about this very concept.  He directs the readers’ thoughts to a flight attendant’s preflight safety instructions.  If you’ve ever flown on a commercial aircraft, you’ll know this well:

In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically drop from the ceiling.  To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you.  Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.  Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask.  If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.  Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.

Helping myself before helping my screaming child?  This goes against parental instinct.  So why do they tell us to do so each time we fly?  Because if I save my life first, it will increase the likelihood of me being able to save my child’s life.

Jesus talks about this same concept, a long time before air travel was even possible:

The foremost [commandment] is, “Hear, O Israel! The Lod our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31, NASB).

Love others as yourself.  Jesus didn’t say, love others like God loves you or love like you’d want to be loved.  Jesus tells us to put on our oxygen mask first before putting on other’s masks for them.  He invites us to love ourselves so we can love others effectively.

7 deadly sins content 2Jesus even modeled this to us when we went off early in the morning to spend time with God, and he passed up opportunities to love others to take care of himself (Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42).  And by taking care of himself and his relationship with his Father, he was able to take care of others.

Let’s be Christlike this year and take care of and love ourselves so we can more effectively take care of and love others.  Because the best gift you can give someone is a healthy you.  The best way you can love another is to love you.

[to read more about this idea and others that might save your life in youth ministry, check out As for Me and My Crazy House, by Brian Berry]

i am jesus (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

7 deadly sins titleI’m not Jesus.

I know, I know, I just burst your image of me.  I am not Jesus now, I have never been Jesus, and no matter how hard I try, I will never be Jesus.  Then why, when it comes to youth ministry, do I strive so hard to be Jesus to the middle school and high school students I spend time with every week?

And I know I’m not alone in this.  A myriad of youth pastors across the country are currently trying to figure out how to communicate the Gospel in a way that will engage every heart at every level.  They are trying to meet with every student who has a need.  They (or should I say we) become discouraged when students do not respond to our message the way we envisioned in our perfectly laid out plans.  Maybe it’s because we think that we’re our students only hope.  Maybe it’s because we’ve blurred the line between being Christ’s reflection and being Christ to others.

7 deadly sins contentThe bad news — Youth pastors often fall victim to the popular misconception that they are, in fact, Jesus, known as the Messiah Complex.  Whether this is a subconscious feeling or a conscious choice, the Messiah Complex can lead to feelings of failure, because it’s impossible to measure up.  There will always be words we should have said to communicate God’s truth more effectively; there will always be words we shouldn’t have said to help others know God’s grace; there will always be students who don’t show up when we’ve crafted that night’s message specifically with them in mind.

The good news — Men and women are not perfect in their communication of the Gospel, and this Good News about Christ has survived, no, has grown exponentially over the past 2,000 years.  While Christ does call us to be ministers of His Gospel to His people, He does not call us to be Jesus.  The good news is that God’s message will be carried on in spite of our imperfections.

The better news — We worship an amazing God who gets His way.  Ever since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, humans have been on a path to reconciliation, reconciliation with God and with others.  And humans have been messing up and miscommunicating from the beginning.

We get the amazing privilege to partner with God in this journey of reconciliation, and are called to be salt and light in this world.  We are invited to point others to God, by God.  So, as we go forth to continue spreading this Good News, know that God is God and we are not.  Know that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict hearts, not ours.  Know that Christ came to break the barrier between God and humans, not us.

We cannot be Jesus.  We just get to shine His light.

[to explore this idea further, and to find more thoughts about living a healthy life by protecting your heart, marriage, and family from the demands of youth ministry, check out As for Me and My Crazy House, by Brian Berry]