I'm about to put my heart out there for everyone to see by admitting to something that many of us in ministry are afraid to verbalize. So here goes . . .
I'm frustrated with the condition of many youth ministries in churches today. There. I said it.
So what is it that is so frustrating?
- I get frustrated watching churches and youth leaders fall for the latest "youth group" fad or "feel good" curriculum instead of teaching the principles of God's Word.
- I get discouraged over the number of "spiritually apathetic" teens today (that are largely the result of their "spiritually apathetic" parents).
- I get annoyed that youth ministry isn't taken seriously and that youth workers are sometimes considered glorified babysitters. I take youth ministry seriously. And so do you.
- And finally I get frustrated over other extracurricular activities that draw our students away from church, and the parents that allow it to happen.
(Whew! Suddenly I feel so much better . . . Thanks for letting me vent.) Here's the good thing. I'm not alone in my frustration. Nor am I without a way out.
I'm reminded of the story of Elijah. Elijah had reached a point in his ministry that he was so frustrated, discouraged, and so afraid that he simply ran away. If you'll recall, he ran fast and he ran far. After a break to be fed a buffet by an angel (which is, you know, pretty cool), he regained his energy, and spent forty days and forty nights in the desert. He finally came to a cave where he spent the night pouting.
We can all definitely relate to Elijah. How many times have we ran away, hiding from God and the world? How many times have we told God we've had enough? And sometimes in our frustrations we look and even expect God to do something BIG instead of taking the time to listen for His quiet whisper.
The convicting part of Elijah's story for me is when God asks him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" When I take the time to stop complaining about the frustrations and really listen to God's whisper, I hear those same words echo in my heart: "What are you doing here?" It's then I realize I had been wasting my time sulking and complaining instead of answering God's call to reach teenagers with the Gospel.
Overcoming our frustrations in ministry begins by submitting to God and listening for His response.
What does overcoming frustration look like from a practical standpoint? Here's a few thoughts that have helped me. Maybe they will help you, too.
Do A Gut Check
Recently I sat down with a piece of paper and made two lists. At the top of the first column I wrote "successes," and at the top of the second column I wrote "frustrations." Guess which column was the longest? As I wrote out my lists I realized God had used me to reach the quiet shy kid who now shares the Gospel with everyone he meets . . . the girl with low self-esteem who now walks each day with confidence in Christ . . . and the rebellious comedian that came to church because his parents made him (who is now a youth pastor in a growing church.) I filled both sides of the paper with the joys and successes God has given me in ministry and I keep that list in my journal. Can I suggest taking a moment to do a "gut" check in your own ministry? I'm sure you'll have your own stories of success. It doesn't mean you won't be frustrated again. It's just a great reminder of God's work through you.
Adjust That Attitude
We're always going to have frustrations. The goal is to begin to handle those frustrations with a different attitude. We're told in Philippians 2:5, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." We can choose our attitude. We can either approach our frustrations in ministry with a selfish attitude or "press on" and look for opportunities to continue serving God and serving others.
We all need to be reminded of this! In Philippians 2:14, Paul writes "do everything without complaining or arguing." When we get frustrated isn't that what we spend our time doing? Complaining to God and others? How many times have we sat around with colleagues in the ministry spouting off only stories of discouragement and not stories of successes and salvations?
Listen For The Whisper
We simply must take time alone with God praying and listening for His whisper. That means stepping away from the office and/or anything that will cause a distraction (MP3, laptop, kids, etc.) and truly be alone with God. Psalm 46:10 urges us to slow down and realize that God is indeed God. We need to pour our heart out and truly be honest with ourselves and God. And while praying we need to dive into God's Word and meditate on His principles first, before ideas found in the latest youth ministry magazine.
Seek Out Others
We also need to start talking to those with years of ministry experience who have faced frustration, hid in their own cave, heard God's whisper, and responded positively. I am learning all the time that no matter how long I'm in youth ministry there is always going to be people who've been doing it longer. Their years of experience and wisdom can be a valuable tool and a huge encouragement.
Frustrations come. It's part of the territory. But they do not have to stick around. And they don't have to derail our ministries.
I'd love to hear how you deal with frustrations in your ministry.