Regardless of where you serve in ministry, you will likely encounter discouragement at some point. It may come from things others will say or do, or things you simply believe about yourself but have never actually been told. Discouragement in ministry is a reality we all face.
I think youth leaders easily and sometimes frequently feel discouraged. We can feel like we aren’t making a difference. We can question whether or not we’re cut out to be a small group leader. We may feel like students don’t like us. The list goes on…
Today I want to take some time to offer you encouragement and truth. Maybe you don’t feel like you need it right now. Maybe you’re seeing growth in your ministry and you know your students love you. But perhaps down the road, when times get tough and ministry is hard, you might need to be reminded of why your presence matters.
Your presence is meaningful and needed.
I think the great lie Satan tries to feed to youth leaders is that they aren’t making a difference, that they aren’t important or needed. If we can become convinced of that, we will inevitably give up on the ministry.
I want to encourage you: do not believe that lie. It may take different forms: I’m too old, students don’t listen to me, each week is just too hard, God isn’t working, I’m not making a difference. The important thing is to identify the lie that you’re believing and fight it with the truth.
The truth is: your presence is important and students need you. Students need adults who will consistently show up in their lives and represent Jesus Christ to them. Just by consistently being there for the students, you send a message that they have value and that you have bought into the truth of the Gospel. And by being there, you are investing in the work God is already doing.
Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
Last month I listened to a sermon where the pastor spoke on Christian community. He said, “We have to remember that the Gospel brings different people together. Sometimes what we view as failure is actually God bringing people together.”
This made me think about youth group, because it’s definitely true for my experience working with students. So many different types of people are brought together during youth group activities. And sometimes those people don’t get along–adults and students included. It can feel like each week is a struggle, trying to end cliques within your small group, trying to get the quiet people to talk, trying to encourage unity between different schools, trying to help students navigate life.
The list of things we try to do can become exhaustive, and when only some or none of them actually come to pass, we may feel like we’re failing. We may question what we’re doing, or if it’s even making a difference. Let me encourage you: just because each week is a struggle, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing something wrong. Which leads me to my next point…
Present difficulties can lead to future rewards.
I think if a lot of youth leaders were honest, we would have numerous stories of how we were not the “easy kids” in youth group. In fact, some of us might have been the student the youth leader secretly wished wouldn’t show up each week. We might have been the back-talkers, the disrupters, the “problem” students. In my own experience, the struggles I experienced in high school fueled my desire to be a youth leader.
The reality is we have no idea what kind of work God is doing through our perceived weaknesses or failures, or through the things our students are experiencing. In the moment, and even in the immediate future, we may not see how God is working. We may never know. But He is working. Each week, in each student, through every struggle, God is working.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul writes, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
As we invest in the lives of students, God will use us. One day, maybe on this earth or in eternity, we will see the rewards. We will see students coming to Christ, serving Him with their lives, and changing the world for Him. And we will praise God because He allowed us to be a part of it.
Your value does not lie in the actions of your students.
Yes, we hope to see students’ lives changed for Christ, but we don’t always see it. We long to hear stories of how we made a difference in the lives of our students, but we won’t always hear them. There may be whole seasons when it seems like nothing good comes of our efforts in student ministry.
We cannot root our identity in the people we serve, and we cannot base our success or failure on their lives or actions. This can be hard because the alternative–choosing to place our value in Christ and the kingdom work He calls us to–is unseen. It takes concerted effort to shift our eyes from what we can perceive to what we cannot, and to place our value there. But that is what will carry us when student ministry is hard.
I love the reminder Colossians 3:23-24 provides: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
At the end of it all, we are serving the Lord, being available for the work He has, and displaying His love to each person we meet. He will bring about success, He will produce the fruit, and He will change hearts and lives. May you rest in that truth today.