I’ve encountered more than a few youth leaders these last weeks that doubted their calling to youth ministry because of things that had happened to them. They had been fired or their hours had been cut, the funding didn’t come through or their senior pastor was dissatisfied. There were angry parents and youth that didn’t show up…
Life isn’t always easy in youth ministry, regardless of we’re doing it fulltime or as a volunteer. Every now and then there will be moments when we wonder why we’re in youth ministry, when we doubt our calling, our gifts, our effectiveness and even ourselves. How do we deal with these? How do we go on when we wonder if what we’re doing is even making a difference? Here’s my advice on dealing with discouragement.
Ask for confirmation of your calling
I know it seems like the biggest cliché ever, but prayer should be first on your list. One of the things I’d advise to you ask God, is a confirmation of your calling. Tell Him of your doubts, your hurt and your worries, and ask Him to show His grace towards you and make clear once again your calling. When I accepted a paid position as youth worker, I only did this after I received a specific verse from God. When I was going through hard times, I asked Him to confirm and somehow that verse showed up again. It made it very clear to me that no matter what was happening, I was right where God wanted me to be.
Ask for help
Sometimes it all gets too much. Please remind yourself that there’s no shame in asking for help. On the contrary, accepting that you’re in over your head is a sign of strength and leadership, not of weakness. Maybe you need practical help and that will lead you out of your pit, maybe you need advice from another youth leader or maybe you just need someone to talk to. I’m one of those people for whom talking is very beneficial as it’s a method of analyzing, of taking a step back and looking at the situation with more clarity.
It was in times like these that I would turn to my encouragement file: a collection of cards, emails, letters en remarks made over the years that have encouraged me. I strongly advise you to start keeping an encouragement file, if you’re not doing so already. Read through it, take the time to let all these encouragements really sink in.
It not always easy to discern ‘normal problems’ we encounter in youth ministry from spiritual warfare, from God testing us, or from true signals that we’re doing something wrong. If you’re not able to figure out what’s causing your problems, ask someone to help you discern the deeper causes of it all.
Admit your mistakes
When you’re dealing with criticism that’s partly true but for the most part untrue, it can be very hard to not get defensive. Still, I advise you to take the high road. Be vulnerable and admit your own mistakes, no matter how hard it may be. I know that in some churches or organizations there seems to be little room for mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you should try and hide yours. What others do with your acknowledgement and apology is their responsibility, but you will have done the right thing.
Don’t make rash decisions
When everyone and everything seems to be against you, it’s not a good time to make decisions. You’re probably emotional and you’ll end up making rash decisions you’ll regret later. Just take it as it comes for now and take the time to make rational decisions.
Retreat and pray
One of the best things you can do right now is create distance. If possible, get away from it all for a weekend and spend the weekend talking to God, reading His Word and trying to gain perspective. It will help you find peace, guidance and ultimately will help you make the right decisions.
I want to close with this, it’s the verse that God has shown me again and again:
Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories. (Isaiah 41:11)