Fellow Youth Minister, We Need the Church!
For most, my absence from Rooted’s writing platform the past few months likely went unnoticed. For the few who might have wondered where I have been, allow me to be frank: I have been broken.
Around a month ago, amid the depths of my brokenness, these five simple words were spoken over me by a fellow youth worker:
“I have been there, too.”
While brokenness tends to be a slow process with many roots, for me, I can identify the most prominent contribution to mine: summer. With the onset of a summer in youth ministry comes the avalanche of late nights, long days, and lots of travel. Ironically, it is this very reality that drew my heart to youth ministry in the first place. However, this year – for the first time in my eight summers in youth ministry – the weight seemed more than I could bare, and I began to bend under its load.
I had found myself in a place in ministry I had yet to tread, a place which honestly had me doubting my ability to press on in the work. Then, in the moment when the bend threatened to break, I listened as my fellow minister recounted the times when he, too, had felt broken under the same weight.
These simple words gave light to my path, allowing me to see the footprints of the many saints who have traversed it before me, and endured to tell of its story. The simple act of acknowledging I was not alone, and even the affirmation of the normalcy of the burden, caused a shift in the burden and a restoration of hope to continue on.
As I have slowly trudged my way out of this place of brokenness, I have learned that this ground is one that many young ministers cross at one point or another. Yet, I believe it is ground we need not encounter at all.
Far too often we, as vocational ministers, assume an identity that God never intended for us – the lone wolf who is caring for the many without being cared for in return. The truth is that while we have been given the principal task of being a leader of the church, even more than that, we have been charged the primary role of being a member of the church.
We are fashioned in the image of the triune God; we are sons and daughters of the Lord who crafted us in the recognition that it is not good for man to be alone – and this applies to more than just male and female relationships. In a world marred with sin and the mere fainting reflections of true community, God has provided for His children through the redeeming ministry of the church, His bride. And by ministry, I am not referring to the segments of the church we lead. I am speaking of the work of the body of Christ shown through ALL its ministers, namely each and every member (2 Cor. 3:6, 1 Peter 2:9).
Praise the Lord for those who have been called to vocational ministry within the local church. It is a blessing to serve in this way, and one I am thankful the Lord saw fit to share with me. However, it is easy to assume as “paid” ministers we are not held to the same prescriptions as other church members. We create an unprecedented dichotomy between ourselves and other church members.
While we recognize particular qualifications given for church leaders – specifically elders and deacons – these do not negate these individuals’ call as a church member, but add to it. If we are not a healthy member of the church, we will never be a healthy leader. But what does that look like for us?
At the least, I believe it is a call to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). This not only means bearing the burdens of others, but also having our own burdens borne. When we neglect to share our struggles with our church family – no matter what position we hold – we steal away the opportunity for our brothers/sisters to act in faithful obedience in their call towards us. We find ourselves wandering the desert of isolation never intended for any child of God.
This call to allow others to bear our burdens can be a frightening reality for the youth minister.
When the church members we most often engage are middle and high school students, it can feel as if we do not have an appropriate place for the bearing of our burdens. However, while there must be wisdom in how we interact with our students, God has given us all we need in the church at large. We can look to both Christ and Paul for an example. In Matthew 26:37, we see Christ sorrowful and troubled as he entered the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Yet He did not go alone. Even though He had been dining with the twelve, Christ specifically took with Him Peter, James, and John to be present with Him in His moment of sorrow, and to pray. Christ invites these brothers to journey with Him in His sorrow.
Paul also gives us as example in his letter to the Roman church. He opens with his desire to be with them, yet not only to encourage them but, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (vs. 12). Even though Paul’s ministry was to encourage and build up the church, he recognized his own need to be encouraged and built up by the church.
Fellow worker, we need the church. In the same way we are called to minister to the body, the body is called to minister to us (Heb. 6:10, Jn. 15:12, Rom. 12:13). Be on guard against the “lone wolf” mentality. None of us are holy enough, strong enough, or even trained enough to minister to ourselves. God has given us a community of believers to encourage us and spur us on (Heb. 10:24-25). While we may need to walk a fine line as vocational ministers within the church, we do not have to walk it alone. As Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us, let us look with joy to the great cloud of witnesses that surround us as encouragement to lay aside every weight and sin, and to run the race with endurance!