My second year of attending a ministry discipleship school, our team traveled to the cutest little mountain town to host a youth service. I was taken back by the charm of the woodsy backdrop this church was tucked away into, but I was even more enchanted with the incredible women who were rushing around to finish the last minute preparations for the meal that they would serve to the teens that night. This wasn’t just because our team had come- these little old ladies served a home cooked dinner every Wednesday night for the teenagers of their community and not one disgruntled look could be found in that place. I found myself lost in the laughter and community found there.
As we prepared for the drama we would be performing that night I was told that I could do one of the segways (speaking parts between songs) and waited in anticipation for my turn to take the mic. That night I shared about my story in the shortest little five minute span, and being able to stand on that stage with that mic changed me. But I’m not sure for the better.
We were packing up that night and I remember finding the youth pastor’s wife, thanking her for allowing our team to come. We had a short sweet conversation, and as the team headed to the cars I remember saying to her as I left “I wish I could stay like you; getting to be with them every week, not just one service and then moving on. I can’t wait to be a youth pastor.” She responded I am sure but I can’t tell you what she said. Because I don’t remember. I wasn’t focused on that. I just remember feeling the pull to stay.
You see- only God could have known that it wouldn’t be too long from then that my soon to be husband and I would have the privilege to do that very thing. We had “made it”! Ministry is no happily ever after but I can say that we have enthusiastically served as youth pastors for near a decade now and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But this, this is not the point. I thought it was. I was wrapped up in that very thought ever since sharing with those teenagers on that stage, but I had missed something very crucial in it all.
The point of being called into ministry wasn’t to attain a position but to live with a purpose.
I was called into full time youth ministry, yes, but it was me who put the title as the finish line. And now as I look back after ten years I can tell you that I was very wrong. I wish I was the only one duped into believing this lie, but unfortunately everywhere we have gone there have been many who are unsatisfied with their own worth because of this very thing. And my heart is growing weary of serving alongside men and women who think their part isn’t “enough” when like those women rushing around to serve a few plates, these nights with teenagers would never be the same without them.
No more. I can’t handle any more of it. Too many futures have been altered, too many offenses have been held on to, and too many students have suffered the loss. So for them I say enough! If you are a youth leader or kids church worker or door greeter or offering bucket passer-outer or help out in any other part of church and are frustrated and about to walk away I have something to say to you…
You are not “missing out”.
Yes there will be many who put great significance on exact positions in the church, and yes many will seek out said persons to talk to or pray with or get a hug from said persons but that title is not your constant reminder that you are not that. It is not a hierarchy of who is important and who is not. It is not a ladder to climb and something to attain. Twice in scripture Jesus rebukes the disciples for arguing over such ridiculous things. Really guys? Who is greater??? Jesus tried talking to them about His death and both times they would rather talk about which disciple is the best?
To quote one of my favorite commercials… “THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS. THAT’S NOT HOW ANY OF THIS WORKS!!!” Is it that you want some supposed title, respect, influence, or money? (As just the “wife” to the youth pastor in the eyes of many I can say that I have gained none of these things over the years, just an fyi.) What is it that makes putting “pastor” in front of your name so important to you? Why is youth leader not enough? You will be the same person with whatever title you are given. Your worth is not found in a title.
Leader, you are not missing out on your calling by being “just” a leader.
So God has called you into ministry? AWESOME!!! But what about that excludes serving as a youth leader not a part of ministry? GOD NEEDS LEADERS. Not just people without something to do for the night. God calls people to stick around and listen to these teenagers and be invested in them. He calls people to be committed to their well-being. Being called has nothing to do with you and everything to do with those around you. You are in fact fulfilling your calling when you take a teenager home, buy their lunch, ask about their day, or attend their school activities. You are changing lives precisely where you are by doing what you are. Know this. Please.
My life was profoundly changed as a teenager, not at first by my youth pastor, but by a leader. A leader who took me on trips and talked to me about life. A leader who wasn’t scared when I handed her pages of poems I had written about suicide and my lack of worth. A leader who texted me and prayed for me and showed kindness to me. I am forever changed because of “just” a leader. She was one of the most influential leaders in our youth group, one of the most influential in my life, because she understood her calling wasn’t connected to her position. And I thank God because of it.
And while you as a leader aren’t missing out, know that when we don’t fully understand and take this to heart, someone inevitably will.
The students will miss out if you lose focus.
Colossians 3:2 Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value].
If all of your effort is on gaining a position which is of temporal value, then the students who surround you week in and week out in which dwell eternal souls will have drifted by without any recognition. Choose them. Look at them. Pay attention to them. They are the big deals!
The students will miss out if you aren’t faithful.
Colossians 3:8-11 But now rid yourselves [completely] of all these things: anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene (abusive, filthy, vulgar) language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, for you have stripped off the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new [spiritual] self who is being continually renewed in true knowledge in the image of Him who created the new self— a renewal in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, [nor between nations whether] barbarian or Scythian, [nor in status whether] slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all [so believers are equal in Christ, without distinction].
When we view youth ministry as a hierarchy, our motives begin to cloud our conversations and we bring division to the very ministries that God has placed us in. Over and over my husband and I have seen how leaders, discontent with their roles, have used their influence to sow seeds of discord. Because they couldn’t get beyond the position they were asked to play on the team, their lives and the lives of others were negatively affected. But that is just it friends, it’s a team. And all parts are equally important. If we cannot be faithful with the position we are in, serving the leader GOD HIMSELF HAS PLACED IN OUR LIVES FOR THIS SEASON, then what makes us think that He will bless a ministry of our own? Unfortunately the students end up missing out the most, and we hinder our own future ministry in the process.
The students will miss out if you won’t forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13 So, as God’s own chosen people, who are holy [set apart, sanctified for His purpose] and well-beloved [by God Himself], put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience [which has the power to endure whatever injustice or unpleasantness comes, with good temper]; bearing graciously with one another, and willingly forgiving each other if one has a cause for complaint against another; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so should you forgive.
Serving under a leader does not mean that you will agree with everything that is ever done in every way that it is done. And at this point it isn’t just about leadership. This will be something every single person will face over and over in life because EVERYBODY IS UNDER SOMEBODY’S AUTHORITY. Even Jesus Himself answered to God. So take lots of deep breaths, forgive often, pray blessing over them, and fight to keep your heart from bitterness. After all, reaping and sowing is a real thing. And we will reap what we have sown.
To end this, my dear friend youth leader, please stop saying “I’m not a pastor yet” or “I’m just a leader” and thinking that your position has any bearing on your purpose. You are so needed. So full of worth. You are changing lives, souls even, by embracing where you are. God will take care of the future you, but you have to keep focused on the present one. Don’t give up now. Someone needs you to be a really great leader... first.