I’ve been reading a book that was stuffed away in a cabinet at my desk called Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry by Doug Fields. Every page seems to resonate with me by either telling me how to better prepare myself as a youth leader or by explaining to me why I failed in the past. Around August of 2010, I took over the student program at BGBC and after a mere 6 months I was completely and utterly defeated. I was full of excuses in the months and years following, but I’ve settled on the simple explanation that (a) I was not mature enough, spiritually or mentally, to take over that kind of position and (b) I was focused more on what ‘I thought a student ministry should be’ rather than what God was calling me to do with the students at Bowling Green Baptist. Doug Fields’ book does a great job of outlining exactly what I was doing wrong and what you can do to avoid falling into the traps that so many other youth workers (not just leaders) fall into. Over the next few posts, I’m going to go through each of 10 “commitments” that Doug recommends every youth worker make and point out what I learned through my first foray into youth ministry and what I hope to accomplish this time around. Hopefully this will help keep me accountable and aid anyone else who happens to stumble upon this little blog in the future.
Commitment #2: I will regularly check my motives and evaluate my heart
Ever notice how much of a black-and-white society we have become? I mean, you can’t be “in the middle” on any issue of debate or discussion. If you say you support the President in some decision he makes, you get branded a socialist that hates America but if you disagree with him you are called an ignorant bigot. You’re not allowed to exist “in the gray area”. Let’s not just pretend this is about politics, it applies to our day-to-day lives as well. Ever been the third party in an argument between two friends and make the horrible mistake of suggesting that one of them had a good point? “Oh, so you’re taking HIS side?!?!” Good grief, can’t I just agree with a single point and not commit one way or the other? We also run into these issues when it comes to matters of right and wrong. Either you think Palestine is right for wanting to be recognized as a state or you think Israel is right for wanting to live peacefully in the land they were given and inhabited for thousands of years. Why can’t people accept that there IS a gray area?
Sometimes gray areas are… not so constructive. When I gave my first stab at youth ministry, I found myself legitimately trying to seek God’s heart for our teens. At the same time, I had my experiences and expectations of how teens should act (even the “bad ones”) and how a student ministry should be run. I merged the two together and manufactured my own “gray area” that worked with my own vane image of what a student ministry should be. It turns out that sometimes things need to be more black-and-white. When I tried merging my own [flawed] view of ministry with God’s perfect plan for ministry, I ended up with something I was trying to sustain of my own strength which didn’t work… at all.
I’m reminded of a song by Third Day called “Consuming Fire” (this was, like, my favorite song when I was 10). The theme of the entire song is, you guessed it, that God is a ‘consuming fire’ that consumes everything we think, everything we do, and everything we are. That lesson applies to seeking God’s plan for ministry as well. As we live our lives, especially lives that are aimed at ministry in one form or the other, we have to let God consume everything we think, do, and are. God has to be the center, not our own preconceptions of what ministry should be or what our job should be. Maybe the job we have accepted isn’t even what God has in store for us. We won’t know if we aren’t listening.
Some time after falling in love with the “Consuming Fire” song, I stumbled across a couple verses that left an impression in my memory (which is pretty impressive since my memory is notoriously terrible). In Deuteronomy, the Bible says…
So be careful not to break the covenant the Lord your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the Lord your God has forbidden this. The Lord your God is a devouring fire; he is a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:23-24 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
Now, these two verses are talking about idolatry, but the principle still applies. After all, what is vanity if not making idols out of ourselves? When we try to force God’s calling into fitting a mold, it’s a form of vanity and by extension a type of idolatry. In Deuteronomy, God warns the people of Israel against pursuing things that are not aligned with God’s own heart. In their case, God told them that their idolatry would result in a scattering away from the Holy Land. Similarly, when we pursue ministry in our own form, we find ourselves scattered. When I was working with the youth and trying to make the student ministry fit my mental image of what it should be, I ended up tired, demoralized, and ultimately “scattered” away from the youth ministry until I had grown enough to return a better, sharper tool.
Where the gray area comes into play is sometimes in the sausage making of ministry. God doesn’t tell us what type of game to play next week at Bible study… or maybe He does… it all depends. God’s calling is different and unique to each person and tailored to their situation. If we end up picking theme “A” instead of theme “B” for our study material, God isn’t going to bring fire down on our churches and scatter our youth (hopefully). At the same time, we have to know that whatever judgement calls or decisions we make, there is always a risk associated with not first stopping to ask “is God telling me something different?” By asking that simple question we can help reduce the gray area into something more manageable and something that we feel more comfortable working in. If we seek God’s heart with the things that matter, I have faith that He will take care of us when we do have to walk through the gray area.