Have you ever felt the way this title suggests? I have. There have been seasons of ministry where things just didn’t seem to be clicking the way that I imagined they would or should be. If you’ve had these seasons as well you know that it’s not a great place to be. Looking back I’ve often wondered why these times have stuck out in my mind more than the seasons where things were going well. Why is it that in ministry our minds often go to the challenging or difficult times rather than the victories? Why is it that we remember that one rough conversation with a parent from last Wednesday night instead of the two students that gave their lives to Jesus?
As I’ve thought through this in my own life and through conversations with other student pastors I’ve come to the following conclusions about these kinds of feelings:
- Success isn’t always a clear measurable. I’m all for goals and accountability, but if things aren’t happening the way you imagined they would or should be check to see if you are measuring or looking for the right things. Success in one season of ministry can look different than success in another season. For example, one ministry that I had the opportunity to lead didn’t take off with growth the way I thought it should in the beginning. I was frustrated at the time but looking back now I know that I was only focused on one sign of growth: the number of students involved in the ministry. In the first year at this specific church there was a lot of work that needed to be done to restructure and retrain the volunteer team to identify with a new mission and vision for student ministry. This involved removing some leaders that couldn’t be developed as well as recruiting new leaders that readily aligned with our mission. Once this work was moving forward we began to see more of the explosive growth that I imagined would take place from the start. We needed the right team to be in place for that to happen. Looking back now I can see that we were clearly successful in that first year if we measured volunteer training and recruitment instead of only focusing on attendance.
- Just because you can’t see the visible results that you imagined in your planning phase doesn’t mean that God is absent. You know this: many times God is doing so much more behind the scenes in people’s lives than you can see on the surface. This is true in both a visibly successful season and a season that leaves you feeling like nothing is working.
- This is an area where you as a student ministry leader will experience spiritual warfare. You will be tempted to lean toward the negative, to dwell more on the difficult conversations than the life change that is taking place. Why? Because if the enemy can diminish the attitude of thankfulness in your life as a pastor (or any believer for that matter) he knows that these attacks will also diminish the peace that you experience. In Colossians 3:15 Paul links an attitude of thanksgiving with being controlled by the peace of Christ. Paul says about this same peace in Philippians 4:7 that it is to “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Experiencing the feeling of “nothing works” can quickly turn to an attack of the heart and mind if we aren’t careful. When things don’t seem to be working it’s always good to evaluate. It should cause you to comb through the ministry to see if something needs to be changed, but if you dwell on that feeling for too long then the door begins to open for bitterness and frustration. These attitudes will wreck your peace. As a follower of Jesus your identity and peace comes from Him alone. Peace doesn’t come from your identity in Christ AND a successful ministry, and it definitely doesn’t come from just a successful ministry.
- There are times when sin in the life of the leader can impact the ministry that is taking place. It should be common practice for you as a leader to allow the light of God’s word to reveal areas of sin in your own life.
- It doesn’t mean that you need to leave your church and go somewhere else where it’s better. You might be in a situation where this is the legitimate end result, but don’t allow your mind to go there first. I’ve noticed this “nothing is working” feeling often comes up in the first few years of someone’s tenure at a church. My encouragement to you would be to hold on if you can. Student pastors who have been at the same church for 8+ years have consistently told me that they felt after 3-4 years they were only getting started. It takes time to earn the trust of students, parents, other staff, and people in the community. Success for you right now, especially in the beginning, may be earning the trust of the people that you are ministering to.
When you feel like you are trying everything and nothing is working don’t get discouraged. There have been many before you who have felt these same feelings. There have been many who have taken these feelings and searched for the answer and found a change that needs to take place, a different measurable for a season, or have found their rest in the peace of God. There have also been many who have fell into bitterness and even depression as the enemy has slowly drained away the peace of God in their lives. Which path will you take? The good news is that if you find yourself on the path of bitterness and negativity in this moment, you don’t have to stay there. Take some time today alone with God’s word and focus in on His peace.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of LifeWay Student Ministry