Teens and students everywhere struggle with depression and teen suicide is on the rise, sort of. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, conversations about suicide and depression abound. I have counselled a number of teens contemplating suicide, and an even larger number of teens struggling with depression.
Since 1991 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that annually, the number of teens contemplating suicide has dropped, from 29% to 17%, while the number of teens actually attempting suicide have gradually increased, from 7.3% to 8%. Take note; 17% is nearly one in five teens. Let’s put that in perspective. For every ten teenagers active in your church’s youth ministry, two of them will contemplate suicide this year.
For every ten teenagers active in your church’s youth ministry, two of them will contemplate suicide this year.
The CDC also reports that suicide is the number three cause of teen death in America, followed by homicide and accidents. Student ministers should have a plan for ministering to suicidal teens and their families, because if you stay in youth ministry long enough, a teen will confide in you that they have hurt themselves, or have thought about suicide. So how should youth leaders and volunteers respond?
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) has some great tips that all youth workers should take to heart. This list is adapted from their full list of tips, which can be found here. When a teen mentions suicide or exhibits signs they may be suicidal:
- Be direct. Do not change the subject. Do not appear uncomfortable or act shocked. Speak matter-of-factly and be open to hearing everything the teen has to say. Many teens are an open book, especially if they trust you. They have extremely high B.S. meters, and can tell if you are not being direct. If a teen comes to you and wants to discuss hurting himself or suicide, give them (and their conversation) the seriousness and frankness they deserve.
- Listen. Many times a mention of suicide is a plea for help itself. The teen came to you! They want to talk, and more important than any advice you could give them, you can give them your undivided attention. I had a teen approach me with suicidal thoughts one time and instead of starting Bible study on time, I gave more time to our conversation. I had a parent volunteer who was irate that I didn’t start the lesson on time and that Bible study was only ten minutes that evening, but my conversation with the potentially suicidal teen took priority.
- No secrets. Never guarantee confidence in a conversation when a student’s safety is on the line. Their parents have a right to know if the teen is threatening to hurt themselves, and once a teen has mentioned suicide, you have a responsibility to try and seek out help for the student.
- Take Action. When a student says they are going to hurt themselves, parents should be notified in a loving and calm way. Telling a parent that their teen is contemplating suicide is one of the most uncomfortable and heartbreaking conversations a youth minister can have. Parents will exhibit a variety of emotions, like failure, denial, and even anger. Suggest agencies and organizations in your area equipped to handle crisis intervention and suicide prevention. If the student comes from an abusive home, contact the agencies directly on the student’s behalf.
- Offer them sincere hope. Depression is no joke. The home lives of students are no joke. Bullying is no joke. Anxiety over sexuality is no joke. Any one of these factors (and many more) can potentially lead to suicidal thoughts. As Christian mentor, you may have the great privilege and responsibility of reminding a teen that they are loved by you and by the Lord. You can remind them that God is constantly present. You can read some scripture together, and you can pray with them. Most importantly, never gloss over their pain by saying things like “just give your sadness over to Jesus,” or “God wants you to be happy,” or “living in defeat is a sin.” The only thing these statements to is mask our own discomfort.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and I have passed it out to an entire youth group before, knowing the three kids I was really targeting. Suicide is a serious topic and it effects too many teens for the church to not take note and speak out. How have you addressed suicide with your students and parents? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
So, you’re in a church that is too small to hire a youth minister, even a part-time one- welcome to the majority of churches in the world! Most churches in the world have a completely volunteer led youth ministry.
The median church size in the United States is 75. In fact, it is reported that 59% of churches in the U.S. have less than 100 worshipers on Sundays, and the overwhelming majority of churches have less than 500 in weekly attendance. Most churches this size cannot afford a full-time (or even part-time) position for a youth minister salary, yet it seems like most of the training and resources in the world of youth ministry cater to paid youth workers.
Volunteers may certainly be aware of great resources like the Center For Parent And Youth Understanding but many are not. Many volunteer youth leaders may easily get discouraged, having faithfully prepared a lesson for Sunday morning or Wednesday night, only to have one, or zero, youth show up. Volunteer led youth ministry can feel lonely.
What strategies might work to get a volunteer driven youth ministry going in your church? How can workers keep from feeling discouraged or burnt out? Here are three simple ideas that can make an incredible impact on the way we do ministry with teens:
- Find ways to merge teens into the life of the church without feeling the need to start a whole new program. Every church wants a thriving youth program, but many churches are not program size congregations. Most churches that are able to hire a youth minister will initially fund the position on a part-time basis. Teens do not need a flashy program for discipleship to occur, they need nurturing in their faith and to see Christ’s love modeled by caring adults. They do not need to learn that church exists to cater to them, but that we are all in this together, and that inter-generational ministry will have lasting value on their lives. There is certainly a time and place for a program based youth ministry, but I predict that youth ministry in the future will become less entertainment driven and more incarnational, and that small churches may take the lead in being labs for youth ministry experimentation. How exciting!
- Partner with other church groups for youth events. Instead of creating an entire youth program for your church (and expecting teens to magically show up) partner with other churches that may also only have a few teens. Starting small, and finding other volunteer youth leaders in the community to partner with is good for students and for volunteers. Students see that there are teens in other churches and have a chance to fellowship with like-minded people their age, and volunteers share the burden of planning an event like a weekly Bible study, a monthly fellowship, or even a summer mission experience.
- Share your passion for student ministry with your pastor. Many pastors are former youth ministers and already share your excitement about reaching teens and their parents with God’s love. This means that pastors may naturally serve as valuable resources for volunteers looking for youth ministry ideas. (As a starting place, you can always download some free lessons from the SMI team here.) If you share your heart for youth ministry with your pastor, I’m sure he/she will show gratitude and excitement, and remain excited to help equip you in the work of youth ministry. If you are a volunteer who has a passion for youth ministry and you have to deal with a pastor who is not supportive of your passion to reach young people, I’ll be praying for you, and for the future of your congregation!
Our youth are the future of the church, (cliché, I know) and you are likely reading this because you agree that ministering to youth is important. My encouragement to you, especially if you are a volunteer youth leader, is that the work you do is vital. God has given you a passion for reaching students with the love of Christ, and we are here to help. Have questions? Have ideas? share in the comment section below!
Jeff Strong, an associate pastor and emergent church leader in Waterdown, Ontario shares some great insight on his blog as to mistakes parents make concerning their teenager’s faith. His list includes:
10. Not spending time with your teen.
9. Letting your teen’s activities take top priority for your family.
8. Spoiling your teen.
7. Permissive parenting.
6. Trying to be your teen’s best friend.
5. Holding low expectations for your teen.
4. Not prioritizing youth group/church involvement.
3. Outsourcing your teen’s spiritual formation.
2. Not expressing genuine love and like to your teen.
1. Expecting your teen to have a devotion to God that you are not
cultivating within yourself.
I have seen each of these in youth parents over the years. Some parents struggle exclusively with one of these “mistakes,” and other parents struggled with all ten! Jeff’s list was posted a while back, but I saw it for the first time today, and thought, “He NAILED IT!”
The list is quite overarching, but I would add one mistake to the list… 11.) Letting your teen think discipleship is all about being in a church program of some sort. Go with your family on mission projects, find service opportunities like the food bank or a soup kitchen, and teach your kids that following Christ is more than having a “quiet time” or attending church for an hour a week.
Many families in our culture are guilty of consumerism when it comes to faith. We consume faith like we consume reality TV shows, the latest smart-phones, or name brand clothing. Many families bounce from one church to the next based on who has the biggest youth program. I have heard parents come to my church and say, “we left ____________ church because they didn’t offer enough for our kids.” That may be true on both counts, but the consumer mentality underlies the frustration of the parents. For many, church is not a community of believers participating in the ushering in of God’s kingdom on earth; Church is a non-profit that provides religious goods to for consumption, like hip worship, good programs, and entertaining youth facilities.
Parents should not buy into the consumer mentality, but rather teach their kids that discipleship is finding where God is active and present, and serving in that place. Serving as family can have a powerful impact on teens. Many parents never volunteer with the youth group because they feel like they will be intruding on their teen’s “time with friends.” My experience has been that teens who see their parents model faithful discipleship are more rooted in their faith, and better equipped to live as disciples after leaving home.
Some churches provide few opportunities for parents to model Christians discipleship and service to teens, because their strategy for youth ministry is to split families apart on Sundays, offering age graded ministry from cradle to grave. Teens who experience inter-generational ministry are more likely to grow up with the understanding of church as community, rather than an understanding of “church is here to serve me.” Millennials highly value community and authenticity. Parents can disciple their teens by modeling both community and authenticity with the way they serve. Just taking the kids to church on Sunday, dropping them off in the youth building, and picking them up an hour later after “big church,” fails to model true Christian community. When teens see that the teachings of Christ do not impact, in any way, their parent’s concern for the poor, their family’s spending habits, or concern for the environment, the faith parents think they model loses a great deal of authenticity in the mind of teens. So don’t let your teen think discipleship is all about being in a church program of some sort. That may be the biggest mistake of all.
Does your church prioritize reaching the Millennial Generation? Studies show that they are the largest generation in half a century, and their participation in church is declining rapidly. Millennials are people born between 1980 and 2000. They’re tech savvy. They’re educated, and they’re passionate. One of the ways to reach any generation is to meet them where their passions are. According to Dr. Rick McClatchy, Millennials are deeply passionate about four things:
Did you notice a few things missing? Flashy programs, stupid games, lock-ins, and Christian concerts didn’t make the list. If your youth ministry program aligns with the above values, then older high-school students may not turn elsewhere to find them. Also, many youth volunteers (and potential youth volunteers) are in their twenties and thirties. If your student ministry (and your church as well) care about getting Millennials involved, then LET THEM SERVE! But beware, they are not interested in serving to just get more butts in seats at your church. They desire to make a significant difference in the world. That means Millennials are looking for a deeply fulfilling way to serve. Perhaps they would be great as a sponsor on your next mission trip, as a small group leader, or even as your church’s next youth pastor!
Here is a great video from Dr. Rick McClatchy that lays out ways to reach Millennials. If we don’t think about this, the church in America could be dead in 30 years. That means this video is probably worth 15 minutes of your time:
I have done youth ministry for well over a decade and I am always amazed at territorialism in the church. Like Paul, I feel like there have been times where I am “chief among sinners” in this regard. I am guilty of building my empire and not God’s Kingdom.
Some of us have served on staff at churches where the issue of territory was prevalent. Conversations like, “well you can’t use resource X because resource X belongs to the _________ ministry team and they don’t like people touching their stuff.” Or perhaps your church is short on space for storage, and a few ministry teams insist on keeping many things in closets that will likely never see the light of day. “But what if we need that VHS curriculum for an adult small group?” or, “Could we use those cassette tapes for children’s choir?” Perhaps you’re the perpetrator, and have said “I just can’t part with _______ because I might need it for a crazy rec game at camp in 2035.” In one way or another, we all try to protect our territory and the resources that belong to our ministry department. There comes a point however, when this is unhealthy. Territorialism is NOT Christian stewardship.
Donna Flagg, founder of The Krysalis Group identifies territorial tendencies as “turfism.” In a post for Psychology Today, she states that “turfism erects walls, commonly known to produce what has been coined in workplace jargon as a “silo effect,” which ultimately limits communication, hinders the development of relationships and infects the culture with an overall lack of cooperation among people and departments.” Protecting territory and erecting walls between others on your ministry team is NOT a healthy way to manage resources.
In Acts 4, Luke points out that all the believers shared everything they had because ”No on claimed that any of their possessions where their own” (Acts 4:32, NIV). This worked in the early church, and it works today. We need to understand that the resources that we are blessed with are not our own. We are all on the same team, We all have the same goal of reaching people with God’s love.
We should build God’s Kingdom, not our own empires. The Gallup Business Journal identifies “empire building” as the ”pinnacle and most extreme level of pyramid bureaucracy.” Read the full article here. When we build our own empires through turfism, the Kingdom of God becomes secondary. So how are these pitfalls avoided? Three ways to avoid personal empire building in your own ministry are:
- Try to see the big picture. We we view things narrowly and from our perspective alone, we are on the road to empire building. Take other views into consideration and maintain a flexible spirit.
- Admit that everything belongs to God. Realize that the resources you have are not yours, or your departments, or even your church’s. They belong to God.
- Let go of your fear to fail. Too often, we fear our own failure and so we grasp for power. This may include trying to take over or “help” in multiple ministry areas, or even an unwillingness to share a storage closet. God is the one who called you to ministry, so let go of your need to impress others and find true joy in serving the Lord.
Contrary to the Jay-Z song, Christians are NOT called to have an “Empire State Of Mind,” but a Kingdom of God state of mind. Let’s get busy building God’s Kingdom instead of our own.
Well, summer is upon us! School is out, kids are ready for extra activities and crazy events, and you’re dreaming dreams of camp registration forms and late nights on an air mattress during missions week. My back hurts just thinking about it. So the question is: when and how do YOU find rest in the busy months of summer?
I Once read a book called “Your Right To Rest” by Wayne Oates. Oates wrote in the early eighties that western people were so busy and plugged into technology that they hardly have time for rest. Ironic. I wonder what he would say if he could see our world today. The truth is, even when I have time to rest I have a hard time unplugging. Here are a few tips that have been helpful to me this summer:
- Go to bed early when you can. Your body was made for sleep and rest just as much as productivity. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” Did you catch that last word, epidemic. I think about lots of things when I hear the word epidemic, like Aids, Malaria, malnutrition/hunger, Flu, but sleep?!? Apparently so few adults (or teens for that matter) get enough sleep, that the use of a word like epidemic is warranted. So what are some cold hard facts? According to the CDC, ”Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.” At the end of the day, the quality of your life and the quality of your ability to faithfully perform the ministry you are called to depends on your ability to get enough sleep. To learn more about the CDC’s incredible findings click here.
- Unplug from technology. If like me you’re a tech junkie, then its crucial to unwind from looking at a screen all day. I have a dual-monitor setup in my office with my iPad on one side of my laptop and my iPhone on the other. That’s four screens on my desk at any given time, and three of them come home with me! When I get home I have a TV in the living room that makes it tempting to enter into a vegetative state, especially after my toddler is asleep. Finding time to unplug can be hard when you’re plugged in all the time. My unplugged time is in the mornings when I take our son to a local park. Chasing him around is tiring, but the time away from a screen is refreshing in its own way. Try and find time this week to unplug. Some suggestions… 1) Many phones today have settings for “quite hours” when you do not want to receive calls of notifications. Certain numbers may also be allowed through in case of an emergency. Set your quite hours and stick to them. Just because students may want to text you at all hours doesn’t mean you need to respond. 2) Get outdoors before it gets too hot outside and enjoy God’s creation. In the Houston area this is often before 9:00am. Yes I’m up by 9:00am. Remember that whole go to bed early thing? 3) Spend some time on a desert island. Seriously that’s about the only place where there’s no cellular coverage!
- Realize that you can’t do it all. The day it occurred to me that I could never DO all the ministry that needed to be done was overwhelmingly stressful. The day I let go of my need to DO everything was overwhelmingly freeing. During the summer, we youth ministers get so busy that some things may just fall through the cracks. Sure your church should hire you a secretary. Sure you wish you had more interns. Sure none of the parents realize the work involved in successful camps and mission trips. There comes a point in ministry where you can either burn, out or trust that God will work in spite of all the things we wish we could accomplish. It sounds cliché, but “let go and let God” is a great motto for minister in desperate need of rest. God was working long before you came into the picture, and will be working long after you leave.
- Explore the idea of Compensatory time (comp-time) with your personnel team. Some senior pastors may read this and laugh out loud. Chances are they’ve never done youth ministry. Maybe you have never heard of comp-time. Until I worked at a church that had it in their personnel policy neither had I. Here’s how it works. You go out of town for seven days on a youth trip. While you are gone you miss your day/days off for the week because you are taking care of teenagers 24/7. A church could set it up so that when you miss your day off due to a youth trip, you get it back as a day off at a later time. Alison Doyle, a well known employment and HR expert defines comp time as this: ”Rather than paying employees time and a half in overtime pay, a company which has a comp time policy gives paid time off from work, for the equivalent amount of time to the extra hours worked.” If churches value healthy employees who are functioning at their peak levels of capability, then comp-time should be part of the policy manual. Each state has different laws about comp-time so learn the laws of your state before taking this great new idea to your next staff meeting.
My hope and prayer for you is that this summer, you find ways to find rest in midst of your hectic student ministry schedule. On the seventh day God rested. Rest is part of the cycle of the created order. Its part of the nature of who God is. I hope that you can make rest part of your life’s rhythm as well.
Every year there comes a time in youth ministry when extra money is needed for camp, mission trips, and even the youth budget in general. Summer programs like mission trips and youth camp are wonderfully formative opportunities for students. At major summer ministry events, many students may come to faith in Christ, have a sense of spiritual rejuvenation, grow closer with friends from your youth ministry, and make new friendships that will last a lifetime. You, as the youth minister, know just how big the impact can be on students who attend these events. If you could pay for all the students to go on trips out of your own pocket, you would. Reality however, is that you’re a youth minister and your salary doesn’t allow you to be as generous as you may like. Sounds like it’s time for a fundraiser.
Yes, I said it—the “F” word. (for youth ministry that is) Over the years, I have met some youth ministers that seem to do more fundraising than ministry during certain times of the year. After tallying the money, some fundraisers are hardly worth the effort required. There may, or may not, be a “magic bullet” fundraiser that works every year for your group. The quest for the perfect fundraiser is for the student minister, the search for the Holy Grail. Here are four tips for effective fundraising:
1: Build Parent Buy In—Parents and other church members may hold to the idea that this fundraiser is the youth’s project so they should do all the work. This may be true to an extent, but the money raised is not to relieve the bank accounts of thirteen-year-old Jr. High students. The money raised helps the parents financially. Many of the students rely on their parents for rides to church, and therefore transportation to assist with the fundraiser. If parents are involved, you can bet your salary their students will be also. Parents have just as much, if not more, to gain as their teens from being aware of and involved in the fundraising activity.
2: Keep Overhead Low—Many fundraising companies want you to petal their goods and wares, but only after you purchase large quantities of said goods. Is buying $1000 of Tupperware or frozen pretzel dough really worth it when you consider the mark-up required to make a profit? What if you get stuck with half of the product you purchased because you discover the hard way that the elderly people in your church don’t like hot pretzels for a late-night snack? You may be able to make a giant pretzel at your next youth lock-in, but the money you eat will leave a bitter taste.
3: Communicate Early and Often—If you were doing a big car wash, a church-wide garage sale, or a silent auction, you would be an idiot to announce it the week of the event. In every church I have been on staff at, people generally want to support the youth ministry of the church. Make it easy for them to do that by advertising your fundraising venture in every way possible for at least a month before the event. Announce it in the bulletin and in weekly e-newsletters, mail reminder postcards, make announcement slides for worship times, hang posters around the church, get a giant inflatable gorilla to place on the roof of the church, and by all means have the students call everyone in the church directory to invite them to the event.
4: Follow-Up—After the event is over don’t forget to say thanks to everyone who helped. A little gratitude goes a long way. People will be more likely to help next time if they know that their gift of time or money is truly appreciated. Twentieth-century author G.B. Stern once said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” She was right. Saying thanks is useful to the students, because it teaches them how to live a life of gratitude. Saying thanks is useful to the adults who gave their time and treasure because it validates and affirms the worth of their gift, and the spirit in which they gave. Don’t forget to say thanks after the fundraiser. It will do everybody involved some good.
This past Sunday our youth group had a spaghetti lunch fundraiser. We got parents involved by asking them to help with food prep and to bake deserts for a silent auction we paired with the luncheon. Because the parents were involved, student involvement was high. Over a month ago we started advertising the event in every way possible and did everything mentioned here (except the inflatable gorilla) to ensure high attendance. Overhead was low because people donated almost everything from the homemade spaghetti sauce to the table decorations. We made almost $3000, which will almost completely pay for the twelve students signed up for summer camp. This week at our Tuesday night youth group meeting we will write thank you notes to those who donated their time and money to help us. Was it a perfect fundraiser? Not entirely, but it was pretty darn close.
These are just a few tips for effective fundraising in student ministry. Fundraising does become necessary from time to time in youth ministry, mostly because the majority of churchgoing people don’t tithe 10%, but that’s another blog post! Fundraising for youth ministry can be a real pain if not planned carefully. We want to hear about your successes and failures in the world of youth ministry fundraising. What has your experience been? What ideas do you have? We would love to hear your input!
How do you grow your youth group? There are lots of writers in youth ministry today that quickly say “growth is not the point! Discipleship is the point!” I would say that according to Jesus, more disciples is the point. Discipleship and growth are not exclusionary goals in ministry. Consider these verses (NIV):
“He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” -Luke 10:2
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” -Matthew 28:19
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:8-10
Jesus and Paul understood their ministries in terms of harvest. All too often youth ministers resign themselves to the idea that they are only on the planting or growing side of things. Some youth ministers think thoughts like “If I just plant the seed now then one day these students might actually be disciples,” or “since the message of Christ was planted in these students by our children’s ministry, it’s just my job to water.” While both of these statements may be true, depending on the student, student ministers should not overlook the harvest.
What does harvest look like in youth ministry? Is it growth in numbers? Is it new salvations and baptisms? Is it the number of students in your group that feel called to ministry? Without defining how the harvest is measured, it’s difficult to define the harvest. The student population is ripe for cultivation and growth in Christ. There are seeds to be planted and watered, there are weeds to be pulled, and the harvest, as Jesus says, is plentiful.
A harvest is the result of diligent work mixed with the blessing of God. Here are three keys to realizing harvest in your student ministry:
1. Cultivate Fertile Soil. It is important to the principle of harvest to plant seeds in fertile soil. If the soil is fertile then the crop will be bigger. Roots will run deeper. How have you set your ministry up to be fertile soil for youth in your city? Sometimes fertile soil doesn’t naturally exist, and so we supplement it and cultivate it until it’s rich enough for something to grow. Are there any elements missing from your ministry that would lead to an environment that is fertile for growth? Students in my youth ministry recently told me of their desire to have youth-led worship at our mid-week meetings. Over spring break they helped knock out a wall to make the youth room bigger, helped install donated sound equipment and staging, and repainted the youth room to make it more inviting. Now students are excited about the possibility of weekly worship, excited about the freshly-renovated space, and excited about bringing friends. More fertile soil for ministry has been created.
2. Water Often. Plants need water to grow. Without some water, even the most drought-tolerant plant will eventually die. Students need opportunities for discipleship. This includes Bible study and fellowship times, but might also include personal mentoring relationships, service and mission projects, or planning a weekend retreat. Some students will come to youth group and get fed regularly. They will be the ones who spiritually mature the fastest. Others will be on the fringe of the group, and may need extra attention. Jesus heavily invested in a few dozen disciples who then went out and changed the world. Investing heavily in the discipleship of a small number of students may have more of a long-term spiritual impact than entertaining hundreds of students with a slick but surface-level youth ministry. Remember, the payoff isn’t in the watering, it’s in the harvest.
3. Stay Harvest Minded. There are TONS of disciples to be made. There are millions of people to win to Christ! In your own community I bet only a small percentage of youth and families are heavily involved in a church, even if they say they’re Christian. If we cultivate rich soil and faithfully water the seeds that have been planted, growth will happen and the Lord’s bounty will bless our youth ministries. Staying harvest minded means having big enough vision to see the importance of long-term strategy. The payoff is always in the end game in ministry. In the harvest there is celebration. There is the reward of hard labor. In the harvest ministry reaches maturity as disciples win new converts and in turn, make new disciples. NEVER be satisfied with the status quo, because the harvest is plentiful. There are ALWAYS more people to reach with God’s love.
Having a theology of harvest is essential to building a thriving and growing ministry. I believe some churches die because they are not harvest minded enough. Other churches poison the soil instead of making it fertile. Many churches don’t provide enough opportunities for the spiritual watering of young souls. How is God calling you to grow your youth ministry and make more disciples? The harvest is plentiful.
I would like to propose that ministers are the most effective when they are spiritually renewed and refreshed. Anyone disagree with that premise? Didn’t think so. The question then is what practices bring spiritual renewal to those in ministerial leadership? Providing care for others is imperative in ministry but unless we care for ourselves, both spiritually and physically, the well from which we draw on to offer care grows dry. Methodist minister and educator Edward P. Wimberly’s book “Recalling Our Own Stories-Spiritual Renewal for Religious Caregivers,” gives three big ideas on spiritual renewal for ministers. To Wimberly, spiritual renewal is not an emotional high at a retreat weekend, or a renewed committment to personal holiness, or a fresh commitment to read the Bible more often (although each of these certainly brings renewal in their own way). The renewal Wimberly speaks of is much deeper and cuts to the core of the psychological self. Here are the ways Wimberly says we can find spiritual renewal as ministers.
- Remember Your Call: God calls men and women every day to ministry of various types. Student ministers, deacons and elders, Sunday-school teachers, and even occasional volunteers should be able to name how they felt called to the ministry they do. When did God call you to ministry? How did you hear God’s voice? What were your original motivations for getting into ministry? These are all questions Wimberly suggests we ask ourselves in seeking spiritual renewal. Remembering and reflecting on why we got into ministry in the first place is spiritually renewing because it takes us back to a place where God lit a passion in our hearts to serve. Have you ever attempted to identify your call story with the call story of someone in scripture? Moses had no sense of personal identity until he met God on a mountainside. Paul had the wrong sense of call until blinded by God’s light in an earth-shattering encounter. Samuel didn’t recognize God’s voice until a mentor helped him identify it. Esther had no sense of her unique gifts until a relative told her how she could serve God’s people. The list goes on of characters in scripture who God called in unique ways. Feeling burnt out? Frustrated with a situation in your ministry context? Take some time to reflect on God’s call in your life. Remember how you felt when God called you initially. Be renewed through allowing God to affirm your call again each day. A high sense of call is vital to spiritual health for ministers.
- Explore Your Life Story: We all have a unique story that contributes to how we care for others. What’s your story? Pastors, youth ministers, camp counselors, and other types of ministers are given countless opportunities to provide pastoral care for those in the flock. It becomes important over time to periodically reflect on our ways of providing care, and acknowledge our own weaknesses and strengths in care giving. We are unable to effectively care for others without a strong sense of where we’ve come from and who we are. Consider your family story. Are there overarching narratives in your life that contribute to how you relate to others? Do you always act like a victim at church because you have always been the victim in your family? Do you feel obligated to please everyone all the time? Perhaps you had to play the peacemaker among siblings growing up and it is now rubbing off on how you deal with the parents of your youth group. Identifying our stories and the themes they contain is crucial to renewal both personally and spiritually. According to Wimberly, some common issues ministers deal with include perfectionism, workaholism, feeling a deep need not to repeat the mistakes of a past generation, too much self-sufficiency, and the need to control everything. Do any of these speak to you? Exploring our own stories helps us identify our weaknesses so that we can begin working on them.
- Be Accountable To Others: I recently learned that a colleague of mine had a father who was in ministry. The man would meet once a month with other ministers in the area for accountability. The conversation wasn’t anything you normally hear at a minister’s shindig. No one discussed how many butts were in seats last Sunday, how the weather was, or even how the local sports team was doing. The collegiality that these pastors had was MUCH deeper than these superficial topics. According to my colleague, “When they gathered, they focused on two things: (1) what are you celebrating (i.e. what’s going well)? and (2) what are you up against (what challenges are you facing)?” We should all find a small group or even a single friend that we can make ourselves vulnerable to. It is rare that I share my weaknesses with anyone in ministry, whether they are at my local church or not. This may be a personal flaw, but I believe that most of us are guilty of trying to be lone-rangers when it comes to our own spiritual health. Who is holding you accountable to live out your call? Who is holding you accountable to working on personal weaknesses and character flaws?
What would spiritual renewal look like in your life? In your ministry? In your community? Ministry is about bringing restoration to a broken world desperately in need of God’s love. Evangelism is about the restoration of sinful humanity to a right relationship with a forgiving God. Social-justice ministry is about the restoration of God’s justice and reign in our present time. Worship on Sundays is about restoring our view of God’s honor and glory and rightly giving thanks for all God has done. Ministry is restorative to souls, to families, to entire cities. There is a caveat though. Ministers cannot effectively bring renewal to others and be the ”salt of the earth“ without first being renewed themselves by God’s grace and love. Remember how God called you to ministry. Explore your own story and learn from it. Make yourself vulnerable and accountable to other ministry professionals. In doing these things, I pray God gives you a fresh sense of spiritual renewal.