Confessions of a Struggling Youth Minister
“How are you doing?” I don’t know about you, but in my Bible Belt ministry context, this combination of words poses as a friendly greeting at best, and at worst represents a question that one rarely answers truthfully. When I am asked this question, the expected response is usually, “fine.” If I tarry in coming up with my answer, I reveal vulnerability, brokenness, maybe even sin. Not many folks have time for that nonsense.
I suspect that most Youth Ministers wish to avoid being asked this question because, unfortunately, we fear that no one really wants to take the time to stop and hear the truth. I also suspect, however, that most Youth Ministers desperately wish for at least one person in their church to be their confidant: someone with whom they can share anything without the fear of judgment or job loss. How do you find such a person? Can this person even exist inside your church?
Perhaps it was my need to have these questions answered that caused me to blurt out at a recent Session meeting, “It’s really difficult to know when it’s okay to let someone know you’re not okay.”
This particular meeting came on the tail end of one doozy of a year. We had just moved into a new church facility at a completely new location. The process of transferring to that new location was all encompassing, and everyone was exhausted by the time the move was complete. At the same time, we as a leadership had watched several marriages in our church fall apart, despite our best efforts to walk alongside the couples and point them to Jesus. To top it all off, we had been through some incredibly difficult conflict with another staff member. And yes, that conflict involved me. We were drained. I was hurt and embarrassed over my sin and my failings. None of us were “fine.” But when your job seems to depend on you being “fine,” you may be the last person anyone expects to let it be known that you’re not okay.
Time continues to help heal wounds and God is so gracious and faithful that he even uses these failures to transform me more and more into the image of His Son Jesus. But I have to confess: very few of my problems were solved at that meeting, and I don’t know who I can really lean on in my church! I suspect I’m not the only one, not even the only one in my church.
I sat with the staff the other day as we shared prayer requests. Everyone in the room either had nothing to share, or shared something about someone else. I certainly can’t blame anyone for feeling uncomfortable with vulnerability in that setting. I myself was not willing to share any of my own struggles at the time; the potential risks overshadowed the benefits. “What if I’m the only one who struggles with this?” “What if they fire me for these sin issues?” These are legitimate concerns that you may share as well, but keeping your struggles to yourself because of these concerns will only isolate you.
Even Jesus needed community, and while he certainly didn’t have any sin issues, he did live vulnerably with his disciples. In Matthew 26:36-38, Jesus brings Peter, James, and John with him to the Garden of Gethsemane where he shares with them that his “soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” The Son of God was a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3) and he was open about them to others! Why should we think we don’t need to open up? Similarly, there is a value in cultivating accountable and authentic relationships with Jesus followers outside of our own churches.
Some of the best meetings I’ve had over the past year or two have been with brothers from other churches in my city who have been willing to listen without judgment to whatever bomb I was willing to drop on our conversation. The weight of not being okay in ministry can almost instantly be lifted through confession and open conversation with another believer. That doesn’t mean your problems are solved. It means you know you’re not alone, and that God is at work in your life as other believers carry your burdens. And a great perk of that type of relationship is that it is mutual. You get to serve the other person by listening and groaning with them.
I would also suggest that this type of relationship should not be limited to you. Your spouse can often carry a similar weight as he or she shares in your ministry – sometimes it can even be worse. If you think you feel alone, try feeling that way and not having any control over the way ministries run. Or try attending a church where you are expected to function as a staff member without actually being paid to be a staff member. Our spouses often deal with these issues, and they need a safe place to share their struggles as well.
If you don’t know where to find a safe place or safe person with whom you can share your struggles, try reaching out to a Youth Minister from another church in your city. Even if he or she isn’t in your denomination, you will almost assuredly have similar war stories to share. They may be just as hungry for this as you! Or maybe you’re blessed enough to live in a city like mine which has an established network of Youth Ministers. This resource is more valuable than I can describe, and you should take advantage of it! Or maybe you could even be the one to begin such a network. I hear Rooted is always looking to start up new networks in new locations!
No matter how long we’ve been in ministry, we need to recognize that at some point, we’re not going to be okay. The Church is the Bride of Christ yet to be perfected, so she still has many of her warts. Youth Ministers are often among the first to experience them. The sooner you find someone trusted with whom you can share your struggles, the sooner you’ll experience the healing power of Jesus as he works to transform your life via the burden carrying of other brothers and sisters in Christ.