The other day in my devotions I read Colossians chapter 2; Paul mentions false humility twice (verse 18 & 23). As I have read these verses in several different versions and looked at commentaries and references, I realize this is something that really bothers me. The idea of acting and speaking in a humble manner just to cover up your arrogance . Purposefully giving the perception of humbleness when the truth is pride overflows in your heart.
With all of the big conferences and meetings I have been to, I have experienced some speakers and authors that are really good at false humility. They constantly tell you about how success has fallen in their lap, drop name after name into conversation, and rattle off their amazing credentials and resume with ease. Then the closing line always makes an appearance “it isn’t about me though.”
I have also met just as many nationally known authors and speakers that are the exact opposite of this. They genuinely care about God’s success, not their own. They pass off honor and accolades to those that help them do what they do.
I am writing this today to openly admit my struggle. Arrogance bugs me to the core, nothing makes my skin crawl more than hanging around a conceited person. I am very uncomfortable with self-promotion and marketing my own stuff. Because it is uncomfortable for me I over compensate and do it wrong. I am a horrible salesman. I have yet to write a proposal for a book or a speaking engagement that has been successful. I stink at this.
Whenever I have gained the opportunity to speak or share about my book I feel like I fail at it because I am so scared of being perceived as arrogant or self-promoting. Yesterday I led a discussion in an advanced youth ministry class at NNU. I was asked to do this and to talk about my book. It did not go as well as it could have because of this struggle that continues to rage in my heart and mind. I want so badly to help God change the landscape of youth ministry, which is why I wrote the book in the first place. Yet, I stink at marketing and promotion and so books aren’t selling. I think the only point I clearly communicated to that class yesterday was how I didn’t want to market my book to them. I love speaking and teaching about God’s word, I don’t like promoting my own stuff.
Alright…I said it. I openly admit my struggle and weakness,and with it comes a deep breath. I say all this not only to “think out loud” but also to share what I am learning from this struggle so it can hopefully help you with whatever you struggle with.
1. Acknowledge where you are weak
I realize this is a major weakness for me. With deciding to self-publish my book I knew that I would have to market and promote myself. I had no idea how bad I would be at it and/or how much time and energy it would take. No one is good at everything, we all have weaknesses. I realize now this is a major one for me.
2. Seek the right kind of help
As I have stewed over this post for a few days, I received some great advice. I need to be praying for God to raise up the right person in my life that is good at marketing and promotion, so I don’t have to do what I am not good at or comfortable with. So as I pray for this I have to keep my eyes open for the right person and opportunity.
3. Let everyone do what they are good at
I have to be willing to hand over responsibility when someone agrees to help. I have to be a team player and fulfill my role of writing and speaking as best I can, and let them do their role as best they can without controlling it. My way is obviously not working, but it can be really hard to let someone else do things their way.
I realized these concepts are ones I need to live out in many other areas of my life, not just with my book. The more I can do these, the less I will hold myself back from what God really wants to accomplish through me. What are you not good at? What is an inner struggle that you have? How are these holding you back?
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!
How do you define success in youth ministry? This seems like a fairly easy question to answer until you sit down and really start to think about it. Is having large attendance at programs success? For a lot of youth workers (and their senior pastors, supervisors, board members/Elders, etc.) that is the definition of success.
That is not my definition of success. If I have HUGE numbers but none of them want anything to do with Christ or with learning to serve him better then I am a failure as a youth worker; a successful entertainer and activities director yes, but not a successful youth worker. The goal of any Christian ministry is positive life change through the power of Jesus Christ, this includes youth ministry.
With positive life change as the goal, what can I do as a youth worker to help move students toward this end? This is a question we must ask, since every youth ministry I have ever seen (my church included) has a portion of participants that just don’t seem to get it or care. There are two things God has shown me out of this scripture that I need to remember for me not to fuel this problem:
John 17:1 – 5 (NLT) 1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. 2For you have given him authority over everyone in all the earth. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. 3And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. 4I brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you told me to do. 5And now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.
1. It is not about me changing their life
The truth is I can’t save anyone, only God can do that. Jesus defines salvation in verse 3 as a relationship with the Father, which means for anyone other than me it has nothing to do with me. It is between them and God, so I have to trust in God and His power not my own. For more on this read my previous post.
2. I need to hold up my end of the deal
Jesus held up his end of the deal, he says so in verse 4: “I brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you told me to do.” Part of what God has asked me to do as a youth worker is to present the truth, the whole truth about salvation. Presenting salvation as something free is not the whole truth.
George Barna in his book Maximum Faith says “Yes, it is free in the sense that you cannot buy it or earn it, but it is not “free” in the sense of it being given without any related responsibilities or expectations.” (pg. 27) Salvation was not free at all; Jesus paid an incredibly high price for me to be saved. Just because I don’t have to pay the price (because of grace) doesn’t mean it was free, and God expects a return on the investment he has made in me. Accepting my salvation and starting my relationship with God is exactly that, a start. It is not the end goal. Just showing up to church is not what God has asked us or the students we minister to, to do. Hearing that salvation is a free gift all the time does not promote me to action, or obedience, or even taking it that seriously. We all need to follow Jesus’ example and hold up our end of the deal. At the end of my life I hope to say those same words to God, “I brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you told me to do.”
How do you define success in youth ministry? Are you presenting the whole truth? Are you helping students follow Jesus’ example?