Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Stress

You may think the life of a youth minister is all fun and games, but the truth is that my job stresses me out just like anyone else's does. Not that I don't love my job, I do and most of it is fun and challenging in all the right ways and moving. But there are times in my life where some of it can start to weigh on me. Mission trip time is one example. Mission trips can be powerful experiences that really move people closer to Jesus Christ, but they are a lot of pressure for the person who is running them.

Of course safety is a constant concern. Mission trips are inherently dangerous, and you are pushing the kids on a number of physical levels. You have to be worried about everything from sun burn to serious injuries from construction work. Not to mention the fact that behavior can always become a serious problem whenever you have twenty people living together in close quarters. In this case, you're talking about most of that number being teenagers whose judgment is sometimes problematic.

The real stress, for me, in this event, as in my entire job, is whether the magic that can happen will happen. Will this really make a difference in anyone's lives? Will it become all about the work and lack the relational aspect that makes ministry what it should be? Youth ministry is hard stuff, man. You have to find a way to appeal to young people on a level that gets them interested while engaging them at a level that pulls them into relationship with God, which is really something you can only prepare them for and cannot make 'happen'. Ministry at its worst becomes all about the minister trying to bring salvation to his flock rather than letting God do His thing in His way. Worse yet, your livelihood is partly tied to actually making the group something the entire church can be proud of, because after all that is who pays your salary. Yet you cannot focus too much on the church's concerns because that is inauthentic and violates your very call to put God first and make whatever He wants the center of your ministry.

It can't be about you, yet there is an expectation that whatever goes right or wrong is all about what you are or are not doing. All these difficulties are galvanized on mission trips, which really are just what you do the rest of the year multiplied exponentially and crammed into a single week. On mission trips I barely sleep, I miss my wife, and I'm worried the entire time.

There are large swaths of my job that make it all easier, and seem like a dream. And mission trips, as much as they stress me out, are something I know I'm still called to and embrace as the very presence of God in my life. I know they are a good, but anyone who thinks that belief in God is just you doing what you want and attributing it to some higher power is misguided. I do plenty of things in my calling I don't want to do because I feel I'm called to do them. No doubt in the overall this leads to a deeper contentment and happiness, but at each point it can be hard.

When everything piles up I try to just let go. A little meditation, a little scripture study, a sermon practice...contemplation is key. How do I be my self and just let God flow without worrying about the consequences? How do I pay life's cost and testify to life's divinity? Am I even doing the right thing here? These are the questions of all ministry. Walking this line is hard work. I want a ministry that is good for the church, good for the youth, and mostly good for God. I want God to be happy first, but Lord knows that I don't want to lose my job either. I don't want to live in some balancing act, I just want to do what I'm called to do and leave it at that. But I'm a weak man. So I focus on the good, try to ignore the bad, and do my best to honor God's call in my life. Is there anything else?

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