It was one of those board meetings…
You know? One of those board meetings when you realize what certain board members really think of you and your ministry. One of those board meetings where you get perspective – the finance committee’s perspective. One of those board meetings where you start to get the feeling that your position actually consists of loads of jobs and responsibilities that you never signed up for. One of those board meetings where you are actually drafting up a resignation letter on your drive home.
I think I was starting to burn out, and that board meeting was a distress signal to my brain that my heart was running on empty.
That night, I was interpreting that distress signal as a sign that I had the wrong job. But looking back, I am realizing that it was a sign that my heart had lost its awe of the gospel and had replaced it with an awe of “my ministry”—a ministry that just went through its harshest test in my time at my church so far.
No, I didn’t resign from my ministry. I wanted to in that moment, but I didn’t. (Side note, I think way too many youth pastors give up in the early years of their ministry, forfeiting really good and long-lasting ministry, because they interpret obstacles as “God calling them to move on”… But that’s a different discussion.)
I wanted to resign that night, but I didn’t. But I also knew that if I were to continue in this ministry, something had to change. And it wasn’t in other people. It was in me. Something in me had to change. Something in my heart had to change.
Paul says something extremely profound in this regard in Romans 1.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16 (ESV)
He claims supernatural confidence, something I heard someone once refer to as “holy swag”, because of an apparent loss at the time. He claims to have a confidence boost because Jesus died. Why? Because in the humiliation and death of Jesus, God’s power was put on cosmic display. It was through an apparent disaster of the earthly justice system that God showed how sufficient he was for the introduction of a new kind of justice. Through the death of Jesus, we were given life. Through the humiliation of Jesus, we were lifted up. Through the torturous agony of Jesus, we were given peace.
It is precisely because of this gospel that I am actually made sufficient for the task God has called me to. And this was the profound secret that Paul discovered and boasted of.
Because of this I am not ashamed of the gospel. Yet for some reason, I had come to the point where I was ashamed of my ministry and overwhelmed by all that it was not.
Because I had lost my awe of the power and glory of God displayed in gospel at work in my ministry – correct that – in his ministry, a ministry that he had graciously called me to serve in. I had not been relying on the power of God unto salvation (cf. Romans 1:16), I had been relying upon the wisdom of my knowledge and teaching. I had not been seeking the wisdom that is from above (cf. James 3:17), I had been operating out of my own genius and intellect.
And instead of ministering out of a sense of awe and wonder to the flock God had called me to, I had been trying to impress everyone with the wisdom and influence of my own persona, instead.
And it was exhausting. It finally caught up to me. I could no longer keep up a facade – I was done.
And maybe you’re familiar with this narrative, because you recognize it in your own heart. Maybe you have instead inserted your wisdom and influence into the integral fabric of your youth ministry… Maybe, as a result, have build your ministry around you and not around “the power of God unto salvation…” And maybe, like me, you’re feeling like you can’t go on anymore like this.
Maybe, like me, you find yourself preaching the gospel of God’s redeeming and empowering grace to everyone else but yourself. And maybe, like me, you know that you need to recapture the gospel in your ministry and in your heart.
But how do we do this?
How do we recapture the gospel in our ministries and in our hearts?
- Frame your ministry in God’s power, and not your own. I have too many unfortunate conversations with friends, fellow-students, or colleagues that included a whole lot of blame shifting. The reality is that it takes two to tango. Often there are faults on both sides because neither the offended person nor the offending party are perfect. And that’s what makes the church so great! We’re all redeemed by the same forgiving God who empowers us everyday to forgive and transform the space we occupy by granting his undeserved favor to everyone…even the ones who offend or annoy us. So stay. Stay and examine your own heart. See why you’re actually wanting out. Is it actually someone else’s fault, or have you forgotten your first love (cf. Revelation 2:4) and forgotten how grace-empowering and mess-redeeming your call to ministry is. Stay and do ministry where it’s needed. Don’t leave and blame it on your church. Frame your ministry in God’s power, and not your own, and get back to work – God’s work.
- Let go of some good ministry things for the sake of your heart. It is possible that you have lost your awe of the gospel in the ministry because you are so overwhelmed by all the good things you’re a part of – the youth band, the school visits, coaching the team, the extra time away from home every night, the lack of margin in your life. And in always saying yes to the good things, you end up saying no to great wonder and peace. Give your heart space to breath in the air of worship and wonder. Don’t feel like you always have to be busy. You can’t lead people somewhere you aren’t going. Your primary task is to sit at Jesus’ feet in awe and wonder (cf. Luke 10:38-42). From that position you are called to do ministry.
- Commit to only doing ministry from the power, blessing, and motivation of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not you. This is wonderfully restful, freeing, and exhilarating! You don’t have to change people! You are simply a tool for God to use as he changes people. Yes, you are called to be the sharpest and best tool you can be for God to use, but you don’t have to be the master builder! The pressure is gone! The worry is gone! The anxiety is gone! Bask in the glory and wonder of God’s ever-redeeming, heart-pursuing, world-changing gospel – the grace of Jesus to pursue sinners who weren’t looking for God and to exchange their hearts of stone for a new, beating hearts of flesh.
Frequently drinking specialty coffee or eating Doritos’ Locos tacos, Brant Cole is often mistaken for just another student. With his wife Christine, he has been in youth ministry since 2010. Gifted in relational connections and transformational preaching, Brant finds it to be one of the highest privileges to do ministry with and to students. To him, student ministry is extremely important because students are not just the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. Brant has his M.A. in Pastoral Studies and Congregational Leadership from Moody Theological Seminary, and currently serves as Youth Pastor at WALLOON LAKE COMMUNITY CHURCH in Walloon Lake, Michigan. You can connect with Brant on FACEBOOK and learn more about his church’s youth ministry on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM.