Finding Hope in a Changing Ministry World
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The current state of student ministry could not have been predicted and has been, at best, challenging to navigate. This is especially true for those who have been serving in student ministry for a while. You have watched your culture fundamentally change.
For example, countless people are suffering from trauma and mental health effects caused by the pandemic. Christian families’ desire to be involved in church activities is declining. High school seniors are not only graduating from school but their involvement in church as well. We are losing retirees who retire from their local church alongside their job. Denominations are fracturing through division. Pastors are burning out and throwing in the towel. Moral failures of significant leaders and church institutions fill the news feed. You’re probably exhausted, frustrated, and maybe even wondering if you can do one more Wednesday night.
We minister in a moment between shifts in the evolution of the church. Will we return to a format where an event/activity-focused ministry will work? Will those who are “virtual church attenders” ever return? Will we be able to go overseas on a mission trip with our students again? Will our denominational and church institutions survive?
As church leaders, we find ourselves between the old and the new. In these moments, we can dream of the past “good old days” of student ministry or move with God into the future that He has for us.
In Ezra 3, the Israelites also find themselves in a time of transition. The glorious temple of Solomon has been destroyed. Their place of worship, as they knew it, is no more, and they stand putting the pieces back together. Take a quick look at what it has to say.
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of father’s houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” – Ezra 3:12-13, ESV
At the temple's dedication, we see the two different generations responding to the new temple before them. The new generation rejoices with shouts of joy. The old generation weeps tears of sorrow, knowing that the current temple cannot compare with Solomon's. The weeping and rejoicing mix into a place where they cannot be distinguished.
For many youth workers of the older generation, we can find ourselves relating to this moment Ezra describes. We know what ministry used to be, and we can quickly rush back to the things we used to do or always did. We miss the days when our youth group numbers boosted our egos and our events were the coolest things in town.
Yet many youth workers of the new generation don’t know about the “good old days.” They look with joy and excitement at what God is doing before them believing that they are in the good days. So, if we are a part of the older generation, how do we become people who not only survive in this changing world but are people who can mentor, encourage, and cheer on the next generation of student pastors?
In Ezra 3, the older generation had forgotten that the same God who dwelled in Solomon’s temple would inhabit the new temple. So we must remember that the same God who was with us in the good old days is still present today in our churches and lives through the Holy Spirit. He still remains. God’s character and faithfulness have not changed. He is still in the business of bringing life out of death. He still works miracles. He still opens eyes and hearts to the Gospel. God hasn’t changed despite the changing church culture around us.
- Be Present to God’s Work Today
My counselor encouraged me to be in the moment a few weeks ago because “focusing on yesterday can bring depression, and focusing on tomorrow brings anxiety.” In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby encouraged his readers to ask God to show them His work in the world and to then join God in that work. A youth pastor’s work may look different tomorrow than it does today, but God’s work has never changed. He is consistent. Pray and ask God to show you where He is working today and commit to go join Him in that work, whatever it may look like.
- Be Proactive in Evaluating Your Soul
Throughout the Psalms, the writers continually evaluate their souls. By being proactive in evaluating your soul, you will make yourself more available to see what God is doing, hear what He is saying, and follow where He is going. Here are some things to consider:
- Do I have friends that I don’t have to be in “pastor-mode” in front of?
- Do I have a counselor or someone I can process life with regularly?
- Am I maintaining a healthy work/life rhythm?
- Do I practice Sabbath rest?
- Does my family feel like they matter to me more than my students?
- Am I seeking Jesus for my soul and not merely for my sermon?
- Am I neglecting my health?
- Am I burning out?
- Invest in the Younger Generation of Student Ministers
One way to help encourage your mindset is to see life through the eyes of someone new. By pouring into the next generation, your impact will go beyond you. As older leaders, get to know younger student pastors and pray that God would show you whom you can help disciple and mentor in ministry.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Why do you think it’s important for older ministers to share their wisdom with younger leaders? How could it benefit the Church?
- Think back to the person/people that mentored you as you started serving in youth ministry. What qualities did they have that you would like to emulate?
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