I came across this quote the other day, and it has made me think a lot since.
“Programs don’t change people, God does.” (Maximum Faith, Barna, pg. 190)
It has made me think a lot because a good chunk of my week is spent on making programs happen. We made some major changes to our youth ministry this fall, and over half of them were about our programs. I realize how much the success of your youth ministry is tied to our programs, not just by me but by most people in our church as well.
This quote also is a shock to my own ego, because it reminds me that the change I desire to see in students I have no control over. I can work hard and convince (or beg) students to change their behavior, but I can’t make them fall in love with God. The hard truth that we sometimes forget as youth workers, or even as Christians, is that I can’t save anyone. It has to be between them and God.
Jesus defines salvation for us in John 17:3 when he says “now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
I can do everything in my power to introduce them to God. I can encourage them. I can lead by example and let them see my love for God. I can use programs as a tool or an aid in all this. But ultimately I can’t make them fall in love with God. The change they need in their life I can’t do for them, only God can.
I have to be reminded from time to time of this truth. If I am doing everything God has asked me to do as a youth worker, then the ultimate “success” of this youth ministry is outside my control. If I am not reminded of this, then I tend to carry too much of the burden, and focus more on the “success” I can control instead of the success God wants.
How have you defined success? Do you and God agree? What burden are you carrying that was never yours to carry?
I hope you have had one of these weeks; a week with both an extreme failure and an extreme victory; then sprinkled with a little bit of everything in between. As I reflect back over this week I can’t help but ask myself why I am in the position I am in. What is my motivation, what is my goal, and how do I define for myself what success is. Am I working to be the ‘perfect youth worker’; or for something else?
The problem with the idea of ‘the perfect youth worker’ is this, there is no such thing! That’s the problem, it’s just an idea, and everyone has their own opinion of what the perfect youth worker is. Your senior pastor has their idea, each church lay leader has their idea, parents have another idea, each student could offer their opinion, and even the church janitor would give another view. As I think about all these different expectations and the effort and time it would take to even come close to meeting half of them, I am tempted to start writing my resignation letter instead of this article. And I haven’t even started to look at the expectations I have put on myself.
Wow, I am exhausted just writing about it, not to mention trying to live up to it. I realize though how easy it is to fall into this thinking. Just today in a matter of hours I went from dealing with parents crying because their student has entered quickly into the ‘I am 18 and ruining my life as fast as I can’ phase and asking me to fix it. To a few hours later sitting in Starbucks with a leadership student and helping them lead a friend to Christ they have been praying for for years. Youth ministry can be a crazy roller coaster ride of ups and downs. And if my goal is to hit my expectation, or someone else’s expectation of the perfect youth pastor, I want off of this ride sooner than later.
But, as I look at the greatest commandments and the great commission, I can see God’s expectation of what success is. Success for me is being faithful to the call God has placed on my life. I can not make every student in our youth group make the right decision every time, I can not make someone open their life to God, I can not do any of these things. I can not claim the failure as mine, and I can not claim the victory as mine either. Only God can give someone salvation, only the student can make the decision for their life. As a youth worker, my job is to be a faithful servant of God, follow His leading, and then let Him work.
2 Timothy 4:2 – 5 (NIV) 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
No matter how much the expectations of me change; God’s word remains constant. As long as I stay faithful to God, His purposes, and His calling on my life, I know I can meet His expectation of faithful servant, which is much easier to accomplish than perfect youth pastor!