Working in youth ministry has brought a lot of meaning and purpose to my life as I strive to love God, love people, and lead others to do the same. Unfortunately, working in churches is not always easy. The following is a personal story of how God has used some of those difficult times to help me become a better person and leader for Him.
Six years ago, my life in ministry was turned upside down by a very ugly church split which caused discontentment both at work and at home. Leaders who have been great mentors in my life were asked to leave and quickly other staff members and families within our church also left. My wife was devastated to the point that she no longer felt alive at our church. Through lots tears and prayer, God called me to stay in the aftermath to help stabilize and prepare the youth ministry to be sustainable beyond my leadership. These two years were challenging, but God eventually provided me with a job at my wife’s home church where we had the privilege of raising our young daughter closer to family. I would love to tell you that we lived happily ever after with a healthy church and thriving youth ministry. Unfortunately, two years into this new job, we experienced and even uglier church split that left the family ministries and church staff feeling lifeless.
Romans 8:28 tells us that, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” God certainly has used these unfortunate events to teach me some very valuable lessons in ministry:
Blessings in Perseverance – You might be thinking that I have been cursed in ministry. But prior to these two church splits, and even in their midst, I have experienced great joy and growth. In both instances, I was very tempted to flee the situation and pursue jobs at healthier and more stable church environments. There were certainly opportunities to do that. Instead of fleeing, I discovered the value of staying, being consistent and stabilizing a hurting ministry. There are many days that are discouraging as you lead ministry in a broken church but I am often encouraged by the students and leaders who have stayed. I have seen God use me as a consistent person in their lives when it feels like everyone else around them is leaving. I have been able to invest in and provide deeper leadership to those who remain. And I have seen spiritual and numerical growth as I have been faithful to stabilize and rebuild a damaged youth ministry. Ministry is hard but God is always faithful and blesses those who trust in Him. James 1:12 reminds me of this promise: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
No Church is Perfect – We live and work in a world filled with people who are broken, hurting, and sometimes difficult to be around. I have seen a lot of ugliness, gossip and hatred among people who are called to demonstrate unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness. We are not immune from carrying the hurt and baggage that comes from unhealthy relationships, destructive words/actions and every kind of pain in this world. Hurting people hurt people and this is also true in the church. You will never find a perfect church. Still, we have the high calling of being a part of God’s redemption plan in leading others to be a part of God’s perfect kingdom.
Personal Growth – God continues to renew and transform me in all circumstances. I have seen great increase in my personal prayer life. Praying has drawn me closer to God; especially in the moments when I needed Him the most. His Holy Spirit helps me find the grace and attitude that I need in order to love and lead those who are hurting and those who have hurt me. Sometimes I carry the stress and frustrations of my job with me, but I am learning how to give those to God and instead focus on becoming the leader, husband, and father that He desires me to be. I have learned to look for glimmers of hope and to surround myself with people who will encourage me in the midst of conflict. I have learned to lead well and become a positive example when it can be so tempting to quit or focus on the negative circumstances.
There are certainly many joys and blessings that come from working in ministry, but Jesus also promises suffering and persecution as we choose to follow Him. My hope and prayer is that you will find peace and strength through Jesus as you walk through the difficult seasons of ministry. If you are hurting and ready to give up, reach out. I would love to be a source of encouragement to you as we live out this amazing and challenging call that God has placed upon our lives.