Have you felt there were not enough hours in a day to accomplish all that needed to be done? The looming obstacle of the never-ending “to-do” list not only consumes the hours quicker than imagined, but the ability to find moments to attend to the things we want to do slip like sand through our fingers. I can imagine that most individuals, in ministry of some kind, can honestly say that if given more time to develop their apostolate they would read more, prepare a bit longer for events, study trends in culture, or simply find ways of being present to those they wish to reach.
The realization of each minute being double-booked, can almost be overwhelming, paralyzing, and if truth be told, it is probably the reason so many chose to leave ministry after short periods of time, whether employed or a volunteer position. It really is a call. Is our life too busy? Possibly, but I have a few words of encouragement for you, while you reevaluate your priorities. Knowing your limitations, your audience, as well as your competition and adversary will give you the upper hand in successful ministry.
Know Your Limitations
You can’t do it all! This being the case, I suggest you start relying on the experts in areas you are ill prepared for. Depend upon others who have either done what you have with excellence, or seem to communicate truth to you in a way that sustains your momentum and is encouraging. Our ability to access helpful materials, or even lean upon the shoulders of those in the trenches longer than us, can truly strengthen the weary heart.
With our dependence upon other individuals and sources, we must be mindful that these are supplements to our God-given calling, and not a replacement for our active involvement in these evangelistic trenches. Here is an example: you may not be a musically inclined individual, unable to strum a guitar or sing more than one note, but knowing how much young people love music, it would be to your advantage, and certainly imperative for you to know what and why they are captivated with certain groups and musical trends. Reading reviews and critiques are helpful, and that is tapping into the vast wealth of expertise, but at some point you’d need to actually listen to some of the music. The ability to share with others, how music has impacted you is applicable, although the movement from John Denver, to U2, to Lady Gaga is extremely different.
Know Your Audience
While knowing our limitations is specific to those in leadership, knowing our audience is primarily about those being ministered to. Who is in your group? You may not need to do a lot of research in special effects if most of your youth group isn’t interested in movies, games, and media. Possibly you have a group that is primarily obsessed with athletics. For you, time, effort, and energy should be placed in going to their games, watching the sports on television that they are interested in, and catching up on basic school rivalries, etc. Knowing our audience makes all the difference in aiding us in determining where to focus our attention. This may seem so elementary to most of you, but I am not kidding when I tell you that there are people who work with youth who have no clue who their audience really is outside of their little youth group meetings.
Sometimes asking a group of kids why they consider this season in sports better than another, or why a particular sports team is expected to win the big game, will open up an amazing opportunity for dialogue. The key is to find out what interests your kids and why. This is for the purpose of earning the right to share with them that, which is of great importance to us: specifically faith in Christ. We can’t expect kids to be passionate about our interests if we take zero time in understanding theirs.
Know Your Competition
This is an odd point, but if your competition seems to be your old age, than you can defy this a little with an awareness of what is happening around you. Ultimately, your greatest competitions may come from some very good things, such as football practice, play rehearsal, music competitions, family vacations, summer or holiday trips, or even weather issues. If you know that practices usually get done at six, maybe put your youth events at 7:30pm. If you realize a big home game is coming in a week, than don’t plan your youth retreat that same weekend. It seems silly to say, but often times folks make competitions out of things that could be avoided with careful planning.
Sometimes competition can help, but in ministry we are offering more than a trophy, ribbon, or even pat on the back. We are extending to young people tools to enable them to be victorious over vice and establish new habits of holiness. There are obstacles we face when trying to walk in holiness or gain victory over sin and we need to look at these.
Know Your Adversary
No, this is not your pastor or director of religious ed.! We do have an adversary and you can be sure that the effort being made in derailing your ministry is an all out attack. You are making an impact in young people’s lives, and this has eternal consequences. Knowing you are committed to seeing this generation reach out to God, you can be sure that when possible the adversary will bring discouragement, disorder, confusion and fear.
Being discouraged in youth ministry is not uncommon, and unfortunately so is giving up. As I travel around the country reaching out to youth through music and message, it is not uncommon for a youth program to have had numerous leaders over the last few years. This constant change can lead to a sense of disorder and discouragement for the teens. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself without support in volunteers, funding, pastoral encouragement, or warm fuzzy feelings. The truth of what you are doing is best seen within the context of battle. You are going to war for young people’s lives. The adversary will do whatever possible to ruin your efforts.
Fear is often the root of failure. We don’t strive for excellence because we fear failure. We don’t step out in faith because we have known others to fall. Whatever the fear might be, you can be sure that it is not from God. We have not been given a spirit of fear from God, rather power, love and a sound mind. You are called to change this world, to defeat giants, to run a race in a manner in which you’d win. Don’t let fear paralyze your heart because you are not in this alone.
In looking at these few points I am sure that many questions still remain, and in all probability your feelings have not changed much at all. The good news is found in realizing that God is not a feeling. Your call to touch the lives of young people is not found in a feeling, but in the fact that you have recognized God’s hand in leading you to the position you find yourself in today. Quit worrying about how good another has it, or how advanced a program there is down the road. Stop comparing your today with your yesterday. Recognize that you are in this to change lives, not win popularity contests. There is strength in knowing your limitations, your audience, the competition, and your enemy, but even with this understanding you must be a person tapping into the victory of Christ in order to succeed. God is with you so go in peace to love and serve the Lord.