Dealing with the Highs & Lows of Student Ministry

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If you’ve been in Student Ministry for longer than 2 days, then chances are you’ve experienced the emotional & spiritual roller coaster that comes with the job.  It might even start on Day 1…”Woohoo, I have a job!”  “Oh no, this is what I get paid?!”  Or possibly it’s a season, where attendance is high, support is strong, and you are just sitting by the phone waiting for a call from North Point.  Then there’s the season were attendance is low, apathy is high, and there’s a loud minority of complaining parents, and you update your resume on a weekly basis and wonder if UPS is hiring.

The problem, not just in Student Ministry, but in ministry altogether, is we too often desperately look to other people rather than God for approval and appreciation.  And it’s fun when it comes our way, but it’s depressing when it doesn’t.  And when it doesn’t come from other people, we can be our own biggest cheerleader or biggest critic.  The voices in our head tells us we are the best or the worst depending on circumstances.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned over the years to keep a level head in ministry:

1.  Don’t let circumstances or events determine your success or failure.

I’ve been there many times.  We have a highly successful event and I’m waiting for my pay raise to come next month.  I have a terrible event, and I question my calling.  It’s natural…and it’s sad.

Instead of focusing on circumstances or events, focus on methods and vision.  Everyone is going to have a dud event, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dud ministry.  Events are a means to an end.  Our goal is to make stronger disciples of Jesus, not to have 1,000 people at a Nerf Wars.  Keep the big picture the big picture.

Where we can get in trouble is focusing on the inconsequential things so much that we pour time, energy, and budget money into it, in order to feel successful, not necessarily to make stronger disciples of Jesus.

If circumstances, events, and programs are always a failure in your mind, go back to the big picture drawing board.  Get the 10,000 foot view, get out of the weeds, and maybe start over.  The big picture drawing board always starts with prayer, and when that’s absent, you are definitely on your way to a dud ministry.

One thing I always keep in mind, is that God can remove me whenever He wants, and God can put anyone He wants in a position of leadership.  None of us deserve to be where we are.  We are here by the grace of God.  I do not deserve to be where I am, and I know it can be taken away at any time.  I also know that someone else can do my job and many can do it better.  But I’m honored that God has me where He has me, and I’m going to believe that it’s for a reason.  This keeps me grounded in what I get to do and how I get to serve God doing it.

Remember, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Of course, God may be calling you somewhere different, but make sure you are running towards that calling, and not just away from a circumstance.

Make sure you’re running towards a calling and not just away from a circumstance.

2.  Don’t let a few loud voices determine your value.

Some people have a gift of complaining.  They’re really good at it.  And they do it really loud.  Often times the things that stick with us are the loud things.  But that can be true on the positive side as well.  Typically there are 5% that think you’re the best youth pastor on the planet, and 5% that think you should be fired immediately.  Which means there’s about 90% that we don’t hear from.  That’s obviously a majority, but we all too often focus on the 5% bad or good, which are extremes.

Don’t let the highs get to your head, and don’t let the lows get to your heart.

And let’s be honest, we’re biased.  We take a defensive posture when the negatives come at us, and we join in the praising (at least in our head) when the positives come at us.

3.  Regularly evaluate your ministry from an unbiased position.

I don’t know exactly what this may look like for you, but it’s crucial that you are always evaluating from an unbiased position.  This may mean having a core team of people that can be brutally honest with you, that you trust.  This may mean surveying leaders, students, or parents regarding the ministry.  Evaluate every trip and event.  Regularly evaluate your programming.  Make changes where changes need to be made.  Bring church leadership into the process.  Keep them updated, not just on the what you are doing, but the WHY you are doing it.  When church leadership understand your WHY, they will have your back and go to bat for you.  When they don’t know the why, they can’t back you up.  They may want to, but they don’t understand they why.

When people see that you are consistently open and evaluating, they will know you’re fighting for the ministry and not just yourself.

4.  Stay rooted in Christ.

This should be a given, but all too often it’s not.  If you are consistently praying for guidance and direction, ultimately God has your back.  And if He brought you to it, He’ll lead you through it.  The question we will always have to confront is, “Did God bring me to it, or did I bring myself to it?”  Consistent time in God’s Word and in prayer are crucial to staying level.  Our ministries will always need course corrections, and we get those directions from God.

The more level you stay spiritually and emotionally, the less the hills and valleys will impact you in an unhealthy way.

How are some ways you’ve stayed level-headed in ministry?

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