“I blew it again!”
With my head on the steering wheel, I sat in the long-empty parking lot of the church. It had been another banner youth group meeting. I had prepared what I thought was a great lesson. But it seemed to go in one ear and out the other. Merely getting through the lesson had been a miracle. Afterwards, I had to break up a “heated discussion” during basketball. That was followed up by a lecture from a parent about how their child’s latest misstep was mostly due to something I wasn’t doing enough of.
As the students filed out that night, I felt like nothing was accomplished whatsoever.
Have you ever felt this way? You look at your students and not only does it seem like they haven’t taken steps forward, it’s as if they've taken two steps back. You teach a lesson, and the next week it feels like you've never talked about it in your life. It feels like your students keep bringing you the same problems over, and over, and over again.
Chances are, you've felt this way at some point. And if you have, you know it can be a disheartening and discouraging feeling. You feel like you’ve done everything you can. Yet on certain days it seems like you’ve made little impact.
If you've been in this situation, I have good news for you: you're in good company. Not only have countless other youth workers felt this same way, from what I can tell, Jesus walked in similar shoes. Think about it. He spent 3 years with his 12 disciples, and at the end of His ministry they seemed little better than in the beginning. The disciples constantly misunderstood and misapplied His teachings. They argued about who was His favorite. Peter denied Him (with some curses thrown in for good measure). And Judas betrayed Him (then killed himself). Even in your worst youth ministry experiences, there’s a good chance it was never as bad as all that!
And yet, look at the impact the disciples would have. Even though at the end of Jesus’ ministry they appeared to have much to learn, these 11 men (plus Paul) would lay the foundation for changing the world.
It can be rough when it seems like our students aren't getting it, and it seems like we’re doing all we can. But maybe we need to cut ourselves some slack. After all, if Jesus, who was, you know, the Son of God, had to weather the growing pains of His hand picked disciples, maybe we should take our frustrations in stride. Maybe we should take a longer-range view of the fruit we desire to see in our students. This isn’t me giving you (or myself) an excuse for doing a bad job. I simply want to encourage in those moments when things seem bleak.
Our success is not determined by how our students have responded 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 weeks, or even 5 years after our small group Bible studies or our “life changing” talks over coffee. Instead, our success will be measured in how well we play our role in helping to lay a faith-foundation. And in most cases, we won’t know until years down the road. We may never know.
So, let me encourage you to focus on the future, not just the daily grind. Be faithful in shaping them, but trust God to do the life-transforming work that only He can do.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)