Campus Connections is a series of articles of vision and how’s to’s for campus and student ministry, by Barry St. Clair.
“Something is missing,” Gary said. “I’ve seen God do amazing things in my life, and I’ve worked with some of the best students around. But am I really making an impact?”
Gary worked at a growing church, but a lack of ministry results plagued him. He had begun with a strong sense of calling and a burning desire to see students grow in their relationship with Christ, but all of his hard work seemed to produce minimal fruit. As we talked over breakfast, it became very clear that he was frustrated with how things were going.
Gary’s frustration may sound familiar. Youth leaders average about three years in one position. The reasons vary—sometimes they leave youth ministry for a new role or go to another church, and sometimes they leave ministry altogether—but often this happens because they’ve lost the vision they once had, and the struggle doesn’t seem worth the minimal reward. The sense of purpose and direction that wouldn’t let them quit has dissolved.
A Worthy Calling
Rarely have youth leaders like Gary lost their vision. They still believe their work is a noble calling. Like Jesus, they want to “seek to save the lost,” standing in the gap between hurting human beings and the God who loves them, sacrificing themselves daily for their mission. But sometimes that “noble calling” gets lost under too many meetings, events, disgruntled parents, and the voices telling them to get a “real job” where they can earn “real money.” Eventually, retail starts to look pretty appealing.
Most youth workers want to make an impact for God’s Kingdom and see partnering with schools as a win-win opportunity. Students spend the bulk of their time at schools, which can benefit from the supportive role youth leaders and their churches can provide to students, families, and staff. Support comes in a variety of forms—help with finances, emotional health, educational goals, transportation, communications, and much more. That can translate into deeper trusted relationships, greater community ownership, and greater awareness of needs.
Yet as rewarding as youth ministry can be, it can also be discouraging. Plenty of patience and persistence plus a high tolerance for drama and unpredictability go with the job. All too often, youth workers end up feeling less like mentors and ministers and more like glorified babysitters.
I think Jesus could relate. His was truly a noble calling and a worthwhile mission, yet the spiritual immaturity of the people around Him took extraordinary patience, persistence, and a high tolerance for spiritual immaturity. Yet He never departed from His purpose and calling.
We see His compassion and commitment, but also the challenges He faced, in one passage that reveals His pattern of ministry:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
Jesus’ commitment to His mission and His compassion for people never waned or wavered. He recognized peoples’ desperate need and the enormity of His mission. Without His divine perspective, He easily could have become overwhelmed and discouraged—just like many youth workers today.
A Renewed Vision
What was it about Jesus that prevented Him from giving up? He saw the big picture—that no matter how great the needs are, the gospel is greater. No matter how many people are out there, God can raise up workers to serve them. No matter how big the problems are, the Holy Spirit has the power to overcome them.
The passage above implies two critical conditions for hanging in there: (1) to reorient our vision—i.e., to see people with compassion and the harvest as plentiful; and (2) to pray—to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.
That’s where youth ministry begins and how it is sustained in tough times—with vision and prayer. There’s much more to it than that, but the rest will hardly get off the ground without a renewed vision and persistent prayer behind it. It is often said that God does a work in us before He does a work through us. If you’re looking for the Lord to move mightily among the students in your church and community, this is where to start.
Your Next Steps
We encourage you to keep a notebook or journal of ideas, action steps, and resources that will help you advance your youth ministry. You can use the following questions and suggestions for brainstorming and developing your goals and plans.
(1) reorient your vision and your volunteers’ vision to see people with compassion and the harvest as plentiful?
(2) raise up pray-ers who will ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers to the campus?