Encouragement for Youth Ministers on the Ledge

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I was recently looking for a file in the archives of my email when I came across a letter I’d written years ago to a college where I had applied for a job. I was floored when I read back my own words: “I’ve been in vocational ministry at a church in the area, but I’m ready for a career change.” In an instant, the flood of memories came back: of a disintegrating relationship with my senior pastor, watching tension on the staff grow as we stagnated under a lack of leadership, a church bully, and the overwhelming anxiety that I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore.

It sucked. Going into the office where I never knew what would happen. Planning events, activities, trying to calendar our student ministry with family as the priority, and not feeling like parents were behind me. Being wrongly accused of things in the rumor mill. Spending time preparing, planning, praying, and not feeling like anything mattered. Feeling like I had no one I could trust or confide in who wouldn’t use it against me. Every day sucked, there was no other way to describe it.

And I was done with it all.

By God’s grace and kindness, that college turned down my application. And so for another year and a half I worked as hard as I could to be faithful in a ministry position I was tired of, working under a pastor who wouldn’t acknowledge anything I did, and longing for what might come next. God had pulled me back from the ledge. And I’m so grateful He did.

I remember hearing in seminary that within a few years, half of us would be out of vocational ministry. Most of those who walk away are on the ledge where they wonder if the cost, the pain, the tears, the anguish, are really worth it anymore. So they leap off the ledge, and they figure out how they can provide for their family without the headaches that came with ministry.

Youth ministers, if you’re on the ledge, can I share some encouragement with you?

You’re not alone
That was perhaps the hardest part of it all, feeling abandoned and alone. Feeling like I was alone in a crowded room at youth ministry meetings and conferences. Feeling like everyone else had it figured out and I was stuck. You’re not alone. You’re not suffering alone. Besides the promise of Christ to never leave you (Hebrews 13:5), you have beside you a rock of colleagues. Lean on them.

Find your identity in Christ, not your position
Sometimes the best thing we can do is preach the Gospel to ourselves. Read through Ephesians 1 where Paul lays out who we are in Christ. Circle the descriptions God has for His children in Christ. That’s you. You’re beloved. You’re loved. You’re chosen. You’re blessed. You’re an heir with Christ. That’s where our identity, purpose, and hope come from. Not from our ministry.

Remember God’s calling
You may have applied for the position and sent in a resume, but in ministry it’s God who places us. Does He place you somewhere not very much fun? Yes. Why? So that our power may be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And if God called you there, God equipped you to be there. And if God equipped you to be there, then God will carry you through the times where you feel like giving up.

Trust Him
Charles Spurgeon, the famous English pastor, once said, “When we cannot see God’s hand, we trust His heart.” Trials come so that our faith is strengthened and our confidence in Christ grows. Precious metal isn’t purified with cotton balls; it’s purified with fire. What God has brought you to isn’t for nothing, it’s not arbitrary. It’s because He’s a good Father who wants the best for us.

Hang in there
Our task is to be faithful where God has called us. So even when it feels like it’s crumbling, be faithful. Even when you feel like quitting, be faithful. Even when you don’t feel anyone is in your corner, be faithful—because God is. And that’s enough. He may be opening up an incredible door where your soul will be healed (that’s what He did for us, calling us to a wonderful and loving church), or He may be preparing you to share and love others going through this too.

If you’re in youth ministry and you’re in this spot, don’t keep it to yourself. I’d love to talk to you and pray with you. My email is scott@ebcparrish.org.

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