Anxiously I waited in the wings. Slowly, methodically rehearsing my lines over and over again in my head. The hustle and bustle of the theater surrounding me. The steady roar of a hushed whisper my companion.
I checked the digital clock backstage…3 minutes until showtime.
3 minutes until I took to the stage floor with my classmates to present the play that my high school theater department had been rehearsing for the past 3 months. The flood of emotions was indescribable. Anticipation, excitement, doubt, elation, dread…and fear. Fear, that’s the one that I remember the most. What if I messed up? What if I missed my cue? What if I let everyone down?
I was just a freshman, and was in a knock-down drag-out battle with my very first fit of stage fright.
2 minutes until showtime…
Did I have time to fake an illness? Did I have time to run? Could I make it out the back door of the production house before anyone could catch me?
As I contemplated my escape, I met eyes with a senior. Cool as a cucumber. No sweat pouring off of his brow. No audible sound of his knees knocking.
“Are you ready?” He asked, with a sly smile on his face.
“I’m nervous” I responded, my voice cracking a little bit from the intensity of the moment.
“Good” He replied.
Good? Was he crazy? How is it possible that my nervousness was good?
1 minute until showtime…
And in those brief moments before Act 1 was slated to begin, he explained why my stage fright was good. “You should be a little bit nervous. That means you respect what you’re doing.” He went on to share that he was nervous too, but allowed that stage fright to motivate him to stay focused. To hit his cues. To do a good job.
And out ran a scared 15 year old into his very first production at Forest Park High School. Still scared. Still nervous. But completely at peace.
I run across a lot of Student Pastors that can relate to this story all too well. You step into this moment, this ministry, this calling and there is a constant fear in the back of your mind.
What if I mess up? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t point these students towards God?
Nervousness. Fear. Doubt. Those are all natural parts of being a leader. And so to you I echo those words that upperclassman shared with me that fall evening…
I’m glad you’re nervous.
If you weren’t a tiny bit nervous, you wouldn’t be respecting this great calling that God has placed on your life. If you weren’t a little concerned, you wouldn’t be taking seriously the task God has given you to accomplish. If you weren’t just a little freaked out, that would be more alarming. If your God given dream doesn’t scare you, you’re doing it wrong!
Now use that nervousness. That fear. That doubt. Use it as motivation to hone your skills, your passion and energy. Use it as the extra jolt to study more, to pray harder, to lead your students to the depths that God has called you to go.
The final countdown has already finished. The curtain is opening as we speak. The spot lights are shining.
If you paid any attention in your middle school geography classes, chances are you have heard of Hernando De Cortes. Cortes was a Spanish Conquistador most notable for his exploits in Central America. Through brute force and questionable morals, Cortes was able to conquer and subsequently annihilate the Aztec people.
But there’s a little known story told about Cortes and his troops before they began what would be their victorious march towards the Aztec capital. Many of Cortes’ soldiers were weary, others were worried about what they would be walking into. A multitude of others feared that they were outmatched, outnumbered and desperately wanted to return home to Spain.
So in a stroke of genius (or insanity) Cortes brought his entire army to the shore of the mighty Atlantic and made them watch as he set fire to his own ships. As the flames engulfed the vessels in the bright sunshine, the message was clear… Retreat was not an option. They would fight and be victorious, or they would die trying.
In Student Ministry, you’re going to face tough times. You will feel that weariness. You will feel that sick, worried feeling. And if you’re anything like me, at some point you will want to give up. You will deal with rotten attitudes. You will encounter parents who just don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ll deal with issues that seem like they have you outmatched and outnumbered.
And it is in those times as Youth Workers that we must burn the ships. Retreat is no longer an option. Those students are depending on you to lead them to victory. If we are going to be successful, we have to sell out completely to Student Ministry. We have to get the resolve of Cortes that says: Sink or swim, I’m giving this everything I’ve got.
And the truth of the matter is that you will have no shortage of opportunity to retreat. The thought of giving up and throwing in the towel will pound your mind like the waves of the ocean that Cortes and his men stood in front of. There will be chance after chance and reason after reason that pushes you towards retreat.
But remember, God is the one who called you to where you are. And it would be a travesty if you let anyone else except Him tell you when it was time to go. It would be a tragedy to let your circumstance dictate and override God’s will in your life.
I know it may be tough, but retreat isn’t the right choice. Giving up isn’t an option. Throwing in the towel isn’t the way to go.
God called you there. Out of all the Youth Workers in the world, He chose you. He believes in you. I believe in you. All the angels in Heaven are cheering you on! You can do this!
Take a deep breath.
Then grab some matches and gasoline and burn the ships.
Retreat is no longer an option.
And victory is waiting just beyond your next battle.
“Don’t call it a comeback…I’ve been here for years!”
Okay, sorry. Quoting LL Cool J is probably not the best way to come back from a hiatus. Although Momma did request that I knock someone out.
Don’t we all love a good comeback story though?
The underdog who against all odds plays with the heart to win the game. The boxer who had been knocked down twice but someone managed to KO their opponent in the final round. The start-up company that found a way to win even though the cards were not in their favor.
We love to see people come back from insurmountable odds. We love to see them get back up when it would be easier to stay down. We love those that pull from the deepest place in their heart and find the will to try again.
This blog promises transparency and sincerity, so here it goes…
This week marks the 3rd month since Bethany, Jonah and I made the move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We love our new home, our new church and especially our new ministry capacities. We believe that God has INCREDIBLE things in store for the Life Church and we are stoked to be a part of it!
But prior to our decision and ultimate arrival in DFW, we struggled through what felt like a continual barrage of jabs and hooks. For 20 months our lives (and if we’re being honest, livelihoods) hung in this pendulum of transition. There were some good moments, some highs and lows…but mostly lows. God seemed to have forgotten us. His plans for us seemed to be on hold. It was like we were impatiently waiting our turn at Heaven’s DMV.
Opportunity after opportunity didn’t pan out for one reason or another. And while we are beyond glad they didn’t as it allowed us to land where we did, that doesn’t change the pain of those moments.
But as I sit in my new town. In my new apartment. Anxiously awaiting our next service at our new church. Smiling ear to ear at God’s faithfulness, I am reminded again of the greatest lesson I learned in that tortuous transition…
God’s Kingdom works in seasons.
And seasons always change.
Summer doesn’t last forever. Nor does the fall, as much as I would like it to. Days get shorter and the Earth continues its rotation. Seasons always change.
I don’t know where you’re at right now. Things may be perfect for you right now. And if so, file this away for when things aren’t so hot in your life.
Or, you may be dealing with a transition of your own. You may be facing a downward spiral in the overall scope of your student ministry. You may be dealing with a potentially ministry shattering situation. Maybe one of your students is pregnant. Maybe you are dealing with a student that is testing their limits at every event. Maybe your numbers have dropped. Maybe your church is facing a crisis. Maybe you are having to start all over again. Maybe you are facing a spiritually dry season in your ministry.
But no matter what the situation is…Let me encourage you today…
You CAN and you WILL come back from this.
This season is not the end of you. That situation is not the one that destroys you. This is not the moment to get off the bus. This is not the moment to throw in the towel. This is not the part where you give up.
Last I checked the trumpet hasn’t sounded yet. Which means there is still time on the clock. There’s still another round. There’s still a chance for you. You can still make a comeback!
You just have to dig deep and find that will to fight through the temporary pain. Whether it makes sense or not, you must dig deep and remind yourself that you are called of God to lead that Student Ministry and NOTHING…NOTHING…NOTHING can stand toe to toe with the Spirit of God and expect anything but defeat. You, and His Spirit inside of you, are a force to be reckoned with.
And remember, no matter the season you are in…
Seasons ALWAYS change.
Maybe you’ve heard the analogy before…
“Opinions are like armpits. Everyone has one, and they all stink”
Or perhaps you heard a much more crass version.
If there is one thing I have learned in Student Ministry, it’s that everyone DOES, in fact, have an opinion. There is the parent that thinks you charge too much for an event. There is the student that thinks you should have an event every night of the week. There is the older, blessed saint that thinks you’re too “out-there” and should just do sword drills with the youth. There is board member that doesn’t think you need anything more than a Sunday School classroom to operate out of. There is the person with no irons in the fire that thinks the Youth Pastor shouldn’t be compensated in any way.
Opinions are rampant. There are every where you turn. You can’t escape them. You can’t avoid them. You can only hope that they are mostly good and not shared with the Senior Pastor. And those opinions I listed above have ALL been said about my leadership.
But the beauty of everyone and their opinions is this…
Those opinions do not define you.
I read an article today that shared this quote:
“Other people’s opinions of your work do not dictate who or what you are.”
And while it seems so simple, it has always been one of my biggest areas of struggle as a Youth Worker.
Other people’s opinions didn’t determine whether or not I was being successful. People’s ideas about how I was “failing” as a leader affected nothing. Those thoughts about the job I was doing in no way determined whether or not I was fulfilling God’s purpose for that moment.
And yet so many times, I allowed myself to bow at the altar of the common consensus. So often I allowed myself to care more about what others thought than what God thought. So many times I allowed the desire to be liked and thought highly of to stop me from making an unpopular decision that needed to be made. So many times I tried to “sit at the cool kids table” instead of dealing with issues that could have become detrimental to our group.
And in doing so, I severely limited myself as a leader.
You will either be liked or disliked. You will be loved or hated. You will either be encouraged or discouraged by the common consensus. You will either be thought of as the greatest or have people wondering why the Pastor hired you. Everyone will have an opinion. And chances are, it will vary from week to week.
Remind you of anyone else?
When Jesus walked this Earth, the consensus varied from Savior to false prophet. It ranged from Messiah to Lucifer. It varied from a carpenter’s son to God incarnate. But good or bad, those opinions never stopped Him from going about His mission.
Don’t get so caught up in chasing cool that you forget to chase after God’s will for your group. Don’t allow yourself to be so enthralled with the popularity of being a Student Pastor that you forget to Pastor. Good or bad, don’t put too much stock in your own press report.
Because ultimately, it is God’s opinion that matters and no one else’s.
And I can assure you that His opinion doesn’t stink.
July 4th, 1776
“Nothing of importance happened today”
The previous snippet is allegedly taken from the diary of King George III, ruler of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. But little did he know that across the great pond, in the booming metropolis of Philadelphia, a document was being written that would forever change the world.
This document, formally known as the Declaration of Independence, shared the American colonies decision to remove themselves from the English rule.
This moment in history, and the subsequent victory in the war for that independence, is celebrated every year on the 4th of July. Adults are off work. BBQs are held. And my favorite, Fireworks are shot.
And there are times in Student Ministry where we feel a lot like the colonies.
We finally see that break through for which we have been searching. We finally see that student truly give their all to God. We finally see it click with that student that had previously been an issue. We begin to truly see the results of our hard work and effort.
But along with the joy and elation of those moments, there are others less exciting.
And chances are, you just let out an audible groan thinking about them.
While there are moments when we have our “American Revolution” where everything seems to be going well, there are other times when we have our “King George’s Diary” moments. Those moments where we go home after a youth service or event and say “Nothing really important happened today”.
And it’s easy to get frustrated in those moments. It’s easy to want to give up and throw in the towel. Those trying times where it feels like you’re totally missing the mark are some of the most challenging that you’ll face as a leader.
But let me encourage you today.
Though it may seem like “nothing important happened” at your service, event or Bible Study, you do not have insight into what is going on behind the scenes. It may seem like your sermon didn’t stick, but you don’t know what is going on in the heart and mind of the people that you’re speaking to. And beyond what you can see, those small things ARE making a huge impact.
Every lesson. Every word you say. Every smile you share. Every hug you give. Every moment that you spend with a student is making an impact.
And just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Don’t allow yourself to get depressed and discouraged when it seems like you’re not making a difference. I can assure you that you are. And even if it doesn’t seem like it, no word is going unheard. No action is going unseen. And no minute is wasted.
So let me challenge you with this:
After your next event that doesn’t seem to be effective, as you’re in your car riding home, instead of beating yourself up for how little impact it had, instead try saying this:
“It doesn’t SEEM like anything important happened tonight, but God works beyond what I can see.”
And in so doing, declare your own independence from self-pity and self-doubt. Declare your freedom from the pressure of visible success. Declare your liberty from your own unreachable standards.
You’re making a difference. You’re changing the world!
And if I had the permits needed, I would shoot off a million fireworks myself just to prove it!
PS- As a side note, there is some debate about the accuracy of the entry in King George’s diary. Some believe it to be true, others believe it to be a hoax. But for the sake of this post, we’re going to go with its authenticity.
Thank you for reading. And especially for all you do for Student Ministry. Now go out there and keep changing the world!
In just over two weeks the greatest son a man could ask for turns a year old. I could fill 12,000 books with all the things I’ve learned about parenting in just the last year alone. But perhaps the most fascinating thing to me is how many people are baby experts.
“You need to let him cry when he’s upset. You need to pick him up immediately. You’re feeding him too little. You’re feeding him too much. He is sleeping too little. He is sleeping too much. You need to do _______. No, you need to ___________.”
We’ve heard it all in the last year.
And while people may have the best intentions for trying to help us out with Baby Jonah, most of the things people say get ignored. We genuinely appreciate all the help we can get, but if we do decide to take someone’s advice, it generally comes after a lot of research and talking to our pediatrician.
But every time we have taken Baby Jojo to the pediatrician, we have listened with bated breath as she shared what we needed to do to keep him healthy. We have never once doubted her when she said he needed to eat more. We have not doubted her when she said that something we thought was abnormal was actually common. We immediately apply whatever she tells us we need to.
So why do we listen to her more so than we do others? It’s not because she is smarter, per se. It’s not because we like her better.
It’s because her words carry more weight with us.
She has studied medicine. She has the experience. She has been around for a long time and seen a lot of kids. She is someone we whole-heartedly trust. Her words are heavyweight words in our life.
And in the life of our students, we must understand that our words are heavyweight words as well.
The words you say, and how you say them, have the potential to tear down or build up like nothing else. A simple “I believe in you” from you carries so much more weight than an “I believe in you” from a friend or peer. And on the opposite side of that, a simple passing word said out of frustration is going to be like sticky glue in their mind forever.
Your words are heavyweight words.
And while there are other people in their lives whose words may weigh more, we must understand the responsibility we have to be cautious with how we communicate with our students. As a voice of God in their life, what we say, and how we make our students feel is what they perceive God would say about them. And more importantly, how they perceive that God feels about them.
If we make them feel terrible about themselves, then it will adversely affect their relationship with God. And by the same token, if we make them feel valued, loved and accepted, then that’s how they will see themselves in God’s eyes.
And while it is not an original thought, and something I have heard Andy Stanley talk about in detail, it bears repeating.
Our words carry weight.
And in their minds, what we say to our students reflects what God would say to them.
Good or bad, the impact of our words cannot be overstated.
Your students trust you as their spiritual leader. They trust that you can be both an encouragement when they need it and a voice of correction. They trust you to help them and not hurt them. They are putting a ton of weight on the words you say.
So are your words speaking life or death?
Are they helping or hurting?
Are you being responsible with your words?
“We are too quick to park ambulances at the bottom of the cliff when we should be building fences at the top of it”
I am a quote collector. I cut my teeth on “Quotable Quotes” in old Readers digests I found stuffed in the coffee table at my grandmother’s house. There is something so amazing about a clear, concise and relevant quote. But as my Pastor mentioned these words in passing during His sermon last night it felt as if someone punched me in the chest. I was instantly transported into another world as thoughts of how I lead my Student Ministry swept through my mind.
Yes, we believe in God’s restoring power. Yes, we believe in God’s ability to wash away our sins. We whole-heartedly believe in redemption. We have it down almost to an art form in how we deal with people when they fall. We have the answers for how they can get back up.
And we should. All of that is important. Those moments are pivotal in the life of a student. Those are the “make or break” moments in our lives.
But are we quick to wait until after the failure to mention the avoidable behavior that led to the mistake in the first place? Are we too quick to park ambulances at the bottom of the cliff waiting for people to fall? Or are we building fences at the top of cliff to try our best to prevent the failure from happening at all?
We have all had, or will have, a student that we see headed towards a cliff in their life. Maybe it’s getting mixed up with the wrong people. Maybe dating the wrong people. Maybe it’s listening to music that is not the best. Maybe it’s a gradual process of slowly slipping away from God.
Most of us can point to a moment that we saw a student heading towards a catastrophe in their spiritual life.
But did we try to stop them or just wait until they fell to mention it? Did we build a fence or did we park an ambulance?
And while each student is ultimately in control of whether or not they fall off the cliff, our students NEED us. They need someone in their life that can show them the areas that are dangerous. They need a Youth Worker that is willing to jump up and down, wave, scream and do whatever it takes to warn them about the cliff they’re careening wildly towards.
The ability to speak into the life of a student is not something that we should ever take for granted. But that influence doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t just happen one day.
Influence requires input.
It requires work to build that relationship. It requires effort to gain trust.
That’s why it is so imperative that we build genuine connections with our students. Because there will come a day when they are headed for dangerous curves that they will need to listen to us. And if we haven’t taken the time to build that relationship, chances are they won’t take our warnings to heart.
We must be there with the ambulance when they do careen over the cliff, but we must also do everything we can to make sure we’re building the fences to stop them from falling in the first place. We must do our best to save them from the heartache, the pain, the mental anguish and the mess that comes from losing control of your spiritual life.
Don’t be afraid to speak into the life of a student that you see headed for a spiritual catasrophe. It is your right. It is your responsibility. It is your honor.
Build a relationship. Gain trust. Help Students see the impending danger zones in their lives. Approach it with love and with a genuine desire to help.
But whatever you do, build a fence, don’t just park an ambulance.