Youth Ministers, Pull Your Students Out of Their Comfort Zones

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“You can’t have change and comfort simultaneously.”

A friend shared this Steven Furtick quote with me near the end of high school and it has proved so very true in my life. Or, instead of change, you could say that you can’t have growth and comfort simultaneously.

For most of my life, I have craved and pursued comfort above all else. In the midst of moves to unfamiliar places, the comfort zone is the one place I have always tried to make my way back to. In loneliness, uncertainty, and insecurity, comfort has seemed like it would solve most of life’s problems.

Especially when I was a teenager. Who had just moved to a new city. And didn’t have any friends or even know who she really was. The notion of comfort seemed so alleviating in this scenario. The last thing I wanted was to experience more change, I just wanted to feel comfortable.

But the summer before my senior year, my contented existence in my comfort zone was called into question when my youth pastors asked me to intern with the youth ministry.

Now, this may not seem like a huge deal. To call this a life-changing and comfort-shaking experience may seem dramatic. If you knew me at 17 though, you would see why this was a big deal. For a shy, quiet, awkward, insecure, unsure teenage girl… this was a huge deal.

But I said yes. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I said yes.

What followed was a year of my youth pastors finding out what was the most uncomfortable thing I could possibly imagine, and then forcing me to do it. Time. After. Time.

“Can you teach the middle school lesson this Sunday?”

“Can you make this announcement from stage?”

“Go talk to that kid sitting by himself over there.”

“Will you lead this small group of middle school girls?”

“Can you plan this mission trip?”

“You’re going to do a rap battle.”

“Can you lead this Bible study for to 20+ six and seven-year-olds in inner-city Mobile?”

I’m not going to lie, being a youth ministry intern was miserable at times. I felt so scared and unsure of myself. I felt like I was being pushed outside of what I was capable of. Many times, I wanted to say no because I was terrified of failing, especially failing in a context in which so many people would see me. I didn’t want to appear weak or incapable.

But my youth pastors didn’t make “no” to scary things an option. They forced me to do things I didn’t want to and never would have done otherwise. It’s like they found where my comfort zone was and put a huge barb-wire fence around it so I couldn’t go back.

In the comfort zone, we are who we have made ourselves to be. We choose to be what we think is best, what is most comfortable, what makes the most sense, what makes us appear the strongest or like we have it all together. We are content with this existence and do not attempt to be more. But, when we leave the comfort zone, we learn who God made us to be. Our idea of what is best is destroyed as God replaces the idol of comfort and control with a faith-filled reliance on Him.

In the comfort zone, we are strong. Whenever we get out of the comfort zone, we feel weak and are forced to lean on the Lord’s strength.

Paul said it like this:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Whenever I am comfortable, I do not need (or at least don’t think I need) God’s power or grace. But whenever I feel weak and uncomfortable, I not only learn to lean on and appreciate God’s strength, but I also begin to see the ways God has made me to be strong.

In the comfort of not trying new things in an effort to appear strong and in control, I was not relying on the Lord’s strength and not growing by his strength.

In the great discomfort of this youth ministry internship, I began to rely on the Lord’s strength in a way that I hadn’t before. And I learned that God was calling me to vocational ministry. He had already created me with strengths and gifts of ministry and I never even knew it.

When I am weak, then I am strong.

When I am weak and uncomfortable and unsure, then I see the true strength of who God created me to be.

It was in this pain and fear and discomfort that I figured out who I was and the gifts God had given me.

It was through my youth pastors’ kicking me out of my comfort zone (and constant encouragement) that I found a new confidence and my calling.

I would have never thought about a life in ministry had I never been forced to try it. It seemed too scary, too big. Too uncomfortable.

I would not be writing this right now if my youth pastors had left me in the comfort zone. I would not be pursuing a life in ministry if my youth pastors had not pushed me to do new and scary things. I would not be confidently pursuing the Lord and his calling on my life the way that I am now if I had never been uncomfortable.

This is a charge for youth pastors everywhere to kick their kids out of the comfort zone. While not everyone will discover they have a calling to ministry like I did, it still bears true that in discomfort and weakness, your students will learn who God made them to be and what it means to depend on his strength instead of their own. Push your kids to do things they really, reallydon’t want to do. Encourage every effort and every tiny victory, even if it seems small or silly. Be right there to pick them up when they fail. Never stop pursuing them and who God made them to be by leaving them where they are comfortable.

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