I used to think I was the only one that felt like this. I thought I was the only person who two hours before our youth event that my mind raced about what if no one shows up?, what if the night is a flop?, what if my talk sucks?, what if leaders no show? What if…….?
Last winter we held our first ever Winter Camp, and like anything that is new, there was a bit of uncertainty around student buy in as well as doubts around if we were as prepared as we needed to be. I like many of you work much of my week alone without the benefit of other full time staff in my department and in the midst of the quiet of my office I have allowed my mind to wander to places of doubt that are not healthy for myself, our leaders or students. The fact that leadership can be a lonely place is an accepted reality of ministry, but it is vitally important to understand that self doubt is a common experience and one that for many can be debilitating and draining.
On the friday morning of the first day of camp last year for the first time in my ministry career I woke up, checked my phone, and instead of getting out of bed, I covered my head with the pillow and thought:
What if I just don’t show up?
What was I saying? Just not show up? We had worked so hard to create an incredible camp experience, students were excited but somehow I wasn’t.
Now as I Look back now at that day and the year that followed, I have learned a lot about myself, about ministry and from talking to lots of youth workers about this exact thing. Here is what I learned and I hope can be helpful to you:
You are not the only one: That morning I felt like a total failure, I felt that I was the worst youth pastor, my students deserved better, my leaders deserved better, my church deserved better. I go on Twitter and Instagram and see great events and youth workers who are #Pumped about how great the event is going to be and that morning I felt like #crap a total #loser. As I shared with other pastors this year at various gatherings, conferences and events I realized something, I was not the only person who had felt like this, in fact far from it. Self doubt and feeling overwhelmed sometimes is pretty common, but no one ever tweets about that. Instead we let ourselves grow in discouragement from watching other leaders “highlight reel” posts, with no mention of the tension and fear that lies beneath. If you have ever felt worried that you event was going to be a total flop, you are not alone.
It’s not a lack of faith: This is probably the least helpful piece of advice that one could have given me when I was in that place of wanting to give up. It had nothing to do with my faith, it was simply a feeling of being completely overwhelmed with doubt. Doubt of my capability, uncertainty that I had done enough or that what we had worked so hard on would be any good. I wanted to simply pull the pillow over my head and give up. I knew God was going to work no matter what I did that weekend and that inspite of my best efforts or inspite of any oversight that I might have made in planning. I wasn’t lacking in my faith in God, I was lacking trust that I was still the right person to be shepherding my ministry and students. God hadn’t changed, I just felt that I did.
Bring people into your struggle: Having a trusted circle of leaders and mentors is key. Ministry, like life is not meant to be a solo sport. After feeling so discouraged and anxious about camp last year, this year I chose to do things differently. This time I brought others into the fold of where I was at, creating an open dialogue where we can encourage and pray for one another. I can say with confidence that this was the turning point for me as for the first time I didn’t feel alone. My core leaders knew for the first time where I was really at, where I was nervous, where I felt we were unprepared and where I needed an extra hand. Knowing where I was at a year ago, this year our team stepped up, we shared the load of camp in a way that we have never before. The same has been true of every event in the last 10 months which have all be joint efforts among many people. We’ve have shared the load, shared the wins and that has been the best outcome of all of this. I have watched as God humbled me to admit I don’t have it all handled and this has allowed our leaders to lead in new and bigger ways than ever before.
The single biggest outcome of all of this has been the slaying of the idol in my life, that I had to do it all and the success or failure of every element of our ministry was solely on my shoulders. This is the furthest thing from the truth, I am a part of a team, a team that supports me and that I am able to support, and a team that cares about my heart and encourages me. As we have grown in our ability to be honest with one another so to has our connectedness to mission that God has called us to as a ministry and for this I am very thankful.