Keeping Sane in Ministry
When it comes to ministry, especially ministry to youth, there seems to be a constant battle against the powers of hell over the souls of our students. To put it another way, seeing students come in and out of our churches and youth ministries means also, sadly, seeing some come in and out of faith. As one entrusted with the role of shepherding the flock, it is all too easy to think that it is my job to keep my students from sin and harm, my job to ensure that they understand the Gospel, my job to win them to salvation and secure them in Christ.
The reality is, not only is it not my job, it is also not in my power.
Since working in ministry, I’ve had sleepless nights worrying over the souls of my students; I’ve had anxiety wondering if they really are saved and know the love of Christ; I’ve been on my knees in tears, broken over the evident sin in their lives. The burden of a youth pastor/leader is a heavy one to carry. Were it up to us to carry it alone, we would be crushed by the weight of the task.
Over the last seven years, the only thing that has maintained my sanity as a youth pastor is holding onto the promises of God’s sovereignty and the work of His Spirit.
In order to maintain our sanity in ministry, we need a strong theology and understanding of the Spirit. Without it, we will default to a poor ministry mindset that it is our job to save. We are so easily tempted to think that the quality of our preaching, the structure of our ministries, the intensity of our love, convicts our students of sin and brings them to salvation. While our preaching, ministries, and love for our students are instruments which the Spirit can use to save, they are simply that – they cannot save by themselves.
Living in a culture that prizes excellence, quality, and greatness, we can easily forget this. If Scripture tells us that we were dead in our sins, and that it was only by an intervention of God that he raised us to life (Eph. 2:1-10), then nothing we say or do can raise a dead heart to life in Christ. To God alone belongs salvation. This is both the burden and the freedom of the pastor.
It is a burden because it means there is nothing I could ever say to win people over to Christ. No amount of sincerity, emotion, or intensity in my preaching can save my students. God can and will use these things in our preaching; but ultimately, it is his work through the moving of the Spirit to accomplish it. It is a burden because it often leaves me feeling helpless as a minister of the Gospel.
I have no other option but to come to God on my knees in prayer as I prepare to preach, shepherd, and lead.
But this is also the freedom of the pastor. Because it is not up to me; I do not have to carry the weight of the burden of salvation. There is freedom in remembering that if it is not me who saves, but the Lord, then my job is not to win or wow, but to be faithful with the preaching of the Gospel that has been entrusted to me. It is freeing because not only is it not in my power to “win” people to Christ, it is also not in my power to “lose” people to Satan. To think otherwise is to be prideful over the influence of our words and actions.
Though there are things we say that can do more harm for the gospel than good, it is ultimately not our responsibility to keep our students secure in Christ’s hands. I hope and pray that I never do anything that will turn people away from Christ. But even if I do, even when I seem to “fail” as a pastor or preacher, salvation is in the mighty hands of the Lord. God will bring about salvation either through us or despite us; but it will always be his work, not ours.
Nothing evidences this more than my own salvation. It was God, not me, who saved me by the blood of the Lamb. It was God, not my youth leader, who elected me and plucked me out of hell’s grasp. It was God, not my parents, who secured my place in heaven. And it is God in the power of the Spirit, not me, who is still pursuing me, forgiving me, and securing my place in Heaven. Remembering that God is the one who is continually holding us, sinful youth leaders that we are, in His Hands, ensures us that our students whom God has elected will also remain secure in His Hands.
We all desire to be fruitful in ministry; this is a given. We all desire to see our students come to Christ for joy and salvation. But thankfully, this work does not lie with us. Without the Spirit, all of our works – even the best of them – are devoid of all true power. With the Spirit, all of our works – even the worst of them – are empowered with the hope and the reality that God saves. My job is not to save people by my hand, but to faithfully proclaim the mighty hand of Christ our Savior.