Turning to God’s Word when Youth Ministry Depletes Youth Workers’ Energy and Motivation
My eyes boggled as I descended the escalator of the fancy conference center in downtown Atlanta, GA. It was November, 2004, and it was my first time at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention. I stepped off of those stairs and into a colossal room that was filled with vendors, presenters, and sponsors offering a lot of FREE stuff to anybody who would pass by. It was a good thing I was given a complimentary bag when I checked in, because I filled it full of curriculum samples, games, t-shirts, stickers, cd’s, and yes… even candy! I could tell, this was going to be a fantastic five days!
After a half hour of getting lost in the maze of “Exhibit Hall”, I found my way to the main stage room. Thousands of youth workers from around the continent soon filled the seats, and in no time, we were all singing at the top of our collective lungs! The largest youth workers conference in the country, was underway! And I was thrilled!
Those five days did not disappoint. Neither have any of the other youth ministry training events, conferences, retreats, or seminars I’ve attended in the 11 years since. I’ve always walked away well-resourced, spiritually fed, and energized for the call God has placed on my life. Events like these are important. And I plan to take advantage of them as often as I can throughout my career as a youth pastor.
Tools Should Not be the Focus of our Ministry
But I’ve realized that these kinds of events are tricky. Because while they do an awesome job providing us tools to use (strategies, curriculum, program ideas etc.), we can forget that those tools should remain the means to an end, not the end themselves. Those tools should not be the focus of our ministry.
Thankfully, Jesus reminds us what is most important. In the gospels, we find the story of Jesus being led into the dessert to be tempted by Satan. We read that “for forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.” (Matthew 4:2, NLT). Satan seized this moment of supposed vulnerability, inviting Christ to consider the fact that he could make food out of the rocks if he wanted to. And Jesus’ answer was perfect. “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). Let’s not forget that Jesus is quoting Moses in the Hebrew Scriptures, who in Deuteronomy 8, reminds the people of Israel how God “humbled [them] by letting [them] go hungry and then feeding [them] with manna…to teach that “people do not live by bread alone…”(v. 3).
As it happens, when I sign up for a training conference or seminar, I’m usually feeling empty and depleted, ready for ideas, ready for anything that will fill me up and get me through the next few months of the ministry grind. And it is during those seasons that I can get sidetracked and mistake the lesser things for what’s most important. We’ve all been given God’s very Word! And in our ministry to make disciples of the next generation, let’s not forsake the importance of the Bible.
God’s Word Must Infiltrate Our Souls
What I’m about to say may seem elementary. But I know I’ve needed this reminder more times than I’m willing to admit. For God’s Word to take its rightful place in our ministry with young people, it must first infiltrate our own souls. How can we teach the Bible if we’re not impacted personally by its message? How can we live out this faith if we aren’t engaging daily with the Word of God? Let’s allow God to minister to us through the Word, so that we might minister authentically to others. And may we continue to find creative ways to engage our students with the Bible, God’s personal message that can speak powerfully into their lives too.
Here at the end of this post, you will not find practical tips or ministry ideas. Instead, I will simply urge you to grab your Bible, find a quite spot, and read for a while.
Darrin Geier serves as a Youth Pastor at Woodbury Community Church. He graduated from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul with a Masters in Christian Education with a Youth Ministry concentration.