For the Youth Minister Who Feels They “Don’t Measure Up”

This article comes to us from one of the founding members of Rooted, Mark Howard. Mark helped draft the original mission and vision of Rooted, served on the Steering Committee for years, attended all our conferences minus one, and now serves Rooted as a writer and a member of the inaugural Parent Steering Committee. I give you his history with Rooted so you can appreciate his gracious words even more.

Mark noticed a question that was submitted to a panel of youth ministers at the online conference last year: “What would you say to those of us who feel we can’t even measure up to all the great ideas from youth ministry organizations, like Rooted?” The question struck him with such force that he felt compelled to reply.

Response: Welcome to the club. And praise the Lord for grace and the Spirit.

One of the great joys of being a part of Rooted from the beginning is that I have made some great friendships with some amazing people. I have sat under the teaching of men and women of faith who truly inspire me in my walk with the Lord, and in my ministry (despite no longer being in youth ministry).

There is so much I admire about each one of them…

I wish I could be as outgoing and networked as Cameron Cole, as brilliant a writer as Charlotte Getz, as credentialed as Mike McGarry, as experienced as Dave Wright, as virtuoso with a question as Liz Edrington, as sweet and kind as Anna Harris, as good an interviewer as Davis Lacey — and the list can go on and on.

But here’s the thing I have to remember: I’m not them, and it’s not a competition.

I didn’t go to seminary, so I had to learn how to preach and teach on the job during my time as one of two full-time pastors at a small church in rural Georgia (doing whatever the senior pastor and elders asked me to do, which included youth ministry). As I was preparing for my first sermon to give to the whole congregation, the senior pastor told me something that has stuck with me over the years.

He said, “If God wanted Tim Keller to preach at this church, then he would have brought Tim Keller to this church. God brought you to this place, so be the preacher God is making you to be. Learn what you can from others but be yourself.”

At the time, I found his words to be incredibly comforting and freeing.

Over time, though, I discovered how hard it is to actually follow his advice. I’ve had to learn to pray prayers like: Lord, what have you uniquely prepared me to say in this moment to these people from this passage of Scripture? Who are you asking me to be for these people today? How do I need to grow as a person to better serve this community through the gifts and calling you’ve given to me?

This is where the Rooted community and the friendships I’ve formed have been incredibly helpful. They have taught me that the Gospel of grace is so multifaceted that it can shine uniquely through each one of us. It also taught me the importance of being a part of the Body of Christ. Praise God, I don’t have to be all things to all people! I just need to faithfully play my part within the body and look for people in my church and community to make up for what I lack in ministry to youth (when I was a pastor) and now in ministry to my kids (since I am no longer a pastor).

I need to trust that the Lord will use me for that which he calls me, letting others join in as they are called and equipped.

One of the most foundational teachings of Rooted is that the power of youth ministry is the grace-filled Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Spirit — not clever ideas or strategies. Yes, we do believe faithful obedience means trying to become better youth ministers and better parents — and this does mean trying to grow in knowledge and competencies. Yet, our hope must remain in the Gospel of Jesus and the Spirit’s work in and through us — including in and through our flaws and weaknesses.

Another way to put it is that we’re always seeking to grow in our ability to play our part in the story God is writing for our communities and the world — but never believing our skills and cleverness are what makes the story beautiful and good; always believing God can and will redeem even our failures for His glory. The beauty always comes from the Author and the grace-filled, sin-covering, resurrection-directed stories God writes.

As Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.”

So, try not to measure yourself against those you see on stage at a conference, hear speaking in a podcast, or read on a blog or in a book. I know a lot of the people who do work publicly for Rooted — and they will be the first to tell you they are not perfect, their ministries are not perfect, and their relationships are not perfect. I would encourage you to take note of what you admire in them, seek to discern and apply what you can from them to who God is making you to be, and then seek to be faithfully obedient within your specific ministry context and calling.

Through it all, I encourage you to trust in the Lord for both your growth and the fruit of your ministry — knowing that even in this, we all fall short.

Do you feel like you don’t measure up? Good. You’re in good company, and you are exactly where you need to be to grow in your dependence on the Lord. It’s an uncomfortable club to be in — but it is exactly the place that Jesus and the Spirit like to party.


Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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