Best of Rooted: A Tale of Rejection and Perfection in Youth Ministry

Since the Rooted blog’s founding in 2010, readers have found us at different times.  Whether you’re new to Rooted or have been following the website all along, there are a few helpful pieces from Rooted’s early days that are worth calling your attention to again.  Here’s Liz Edrington’s piece “A Tale of Rejection and Perfection in Youth Ministry” from November 2010.

“In every contest, there must be a loser.  La-hoo-sa-her.”– Ace Ventura, Pet Detective

Rejection.  We’ve all faced it.  As a matter of fact, we’re all probably facing it in one way or another right now.  Rejection has to be one of the most common experiences of mankind, and recently I’ve been struck by the way God has been using it in relation to youth ministry.

What happens when you relate to a kid through a weakness or an experience of suffering or failure?  Often, walls are broken and God shows up in some really neat (and sometimes unexpected) ways.  It can be easy to fall into a pattern of thinking you need to have everything together in order to be a minister — thinking you need to reflect your faith perfectly all the time, and you need to have all the right answers.   At least that is what I thought when I became a youth minister a little over four years ago.  My perfectionism (which reflected in my faith) came through in my ministry, and my actions were never good enough for the impossible standards I set.  I wanted the kids I worked with to be good ‘do-ers’ of Christianity too, (even though I never felt like a good ‘do-er’ of it myself) and I constantly evaluated my relationships with Jesus based on what I was or wasn’t doing.

Somewhere in that first year, I began to be crushed by all of my evaluating and never doing enough (because there is ALWAYS more to do in youth ministry), and someone brought to my attention that I was called to be perfect, and I couldn’t be.  That’s why our perfect God plopped some flesh on and died for me.  He alone is perfect, and only He could be the perfect atoning sacrifice for my mess.   In Him, I am set free from the law of perfection laid on me, and I get to live in response to His ridiculous love for me (Romans 8:1-2).   Jesus draws our eyes away from ourself and to Himself, to Love.

There are so many things that draw our eyes to ourselves, and the real freedom I have experienced has come through the Lord’s merciful drawing of them to Himself.  Perhaps that is why people often meet, see, or experience Him in their times of weakness, pain, or struggle; they are finally done looking at themselves and begin looking for or toward Him.   And He is always there!

This same idea plays out in how we relate to kids; sharing the reality of our places of rejection (and need for the Lord in a bigger sense) can be an unexpected conduit for Jesus to be seen.  Kids sometime can’t believe that you (yes, you, Oh Wonderful Youth Leader, you) have gone through rejection like they have, and God’s love in light of that rejection can be a powerful, powerful thing.  He’s been there too (Jesus), and He literally died for we who rejected Him.  His love extends into rejection and meets us in the depths.  This is not to say we should use youth group as a counseling session for ourselves, but man, God might have something awesome in-store for your places of pain, failure, and rejection.  Pray about it, I say.  I think Paul’s on to something in 2 Corinthians (12:9-11):

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Liz Edrington serves as the Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She received her M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, and she has worked with students in one form or another since 2002. She is an emeritus member of the Rooted steering committee, and she's the author of a 31-day devotional for teenagers called Anxiety: Finding the Better Story (P&R Publishing, 2023). Pickled things delight her, as does her snuggle beast, Bella the Dog.

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