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Jan 19

Strength in Weakness and other struggles of being a youth leader

When I was just starting out in youth ministry full time, I was based in a church in West Ewell in Surrey. I was training with Oasis Trust on their Christian Youth Ministry Programme. I was in my mid twenties and loving being able to grow in this ministry.

A local youth worker from a larger church in the area sent me an invitation to meet other youth workers in the area over lunch at his home. I went along, looking forward to meeting similar minded people and to hearing about what they were each doing.

What happened is something that surprised me but has not been a one-off occurrence in my experience since, nor do I believe was it unique to me.

We took it in turns to talk about the ministry we led and how many young people we connected with. It became a game of who can mention the most number of young people. The numbers they got up to were far greater than I was working with and I left feeling quite despondent. Was I any good at this youth ministry lark?

Now I don’t know to this day how truthful the numbers were but it seemed to be about promoting success rather than sharing the realities of ministry.

Over the 20 years or so since this encounter I have realised that we youth leaders are a funny breed. We are quite sensitive,  fearful of someone else having greater ‘success’ (whatever that is in church ministry) or being found out for not really knowing what we are doing!

My mind comes back to the words of God to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ God never intended us to be strong and self-contained. He knows that we can get things wrong, that we can be weak sometimes. But it was never meant to be all about us but about what he can do through us if we allow him to.

We need to stop feeling that we have to have all the answers, to have the perfect plan, to feel that we have it all together. Rather, we need to recognise our weaknesses, our frailties and our insecurities and give these all to God, praying that he will work through us by his Spirit.

Churches don’t help in this regard a lot of the time. They tend to give short term contracts to youth ministers, which communicates we expect great things in the next two or three years or your contract won’t be renewed (probably not what the church had in mind to communicate at all, but this is how it comes across to the youth minister). So inevitably the youth minister thinks they have to come across as Superman to the young people, the parents and the church leadership.

What we need is to value God’s strength demonstrated through our weakness. I want to see our leadership culture change so that is ok to:

  • make mistakes
  • hold events and activities that fail
  • admit when we are struggling and can’t cope
  • say when we don’t know how to handle a situation
  • ask for help

As we do these things, we allow others to work alongside us and, more importantly, we allow God to work through us as we turn to him in total dependency. We will see more of God shine through us and we will turn all glory to him when we see signs of growth and spiritual success, rather than glorifying the leader.

If you are a youth leader, feel released from this pressure to have it all together all the time. Learn to be honest. Build a safe accountability group of fellow leaders and commit each other to God. You will feel a massive burden lifted and you will become a better youth minister, as you will be more dependent on God and his guidance than yourself and your weaknesses.

Thrive wants to help you to do this. At Resolution we are focus on strengthening the soul of the leader. Come away with us for 24 hours and retreat with God, as we explore this issue together.

Our Hubs and Network gatherings enable us to do this as well. But we will watch out for any number games going on and point them out straight away!

If you are a church leader, don’t put unrealistic expectations on your youth leaders. Be expectant to see God at work but don’t be too full of expectations of how that should look. Give the youth leader space to grow, to seek God and to be obedient to whatever he tells them to do. Then celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness.

If we can take off this pressure, we will see youth ministers lasting much longer in their roles and we will see more young people growing to spiritual maturity as a result. That’s what I dream of, anyway.