Whether you’re new to a youth ministry role or a long-hauler, it is not uncommon to have times of identity distortion. Of course, we ascent to the fact that we are children of God, but amongst friends and family, or while pastoring, mentoring, teaching, and even parenting, we can lose our identity equilibrium. Instead of holding onto to our identity in Christ, it slips to the side. At times our identity, as viewed by others and ourselves, requires a reality check. At times we need a reminder of God’s mercy – what he has done for us – to help us remember who we truly are, and what we were made to be a part of.
Sixteen minutes is all it took.
Sixteen minutes from the moment we made it into the birthing suite until our third child was born.
It surprised us as much as it did the midwives and doctors looking after us. And soon enough, we held our son in our hands, having just experienced the full awe and joy and shock of the birthing experience.
Of course, sixteen minutes in the hospital is not the whole picture. The gestation period of our child was nine months, and of course labor takes numerous hours from start to finish as well. But then at some point there is the definitive difference between being a family of four, and becoming a family of five. At one point, I couldn’t hold my son, and at another point he was out in the world and I could.
In his first letter the apostle Peter writes about how at one time we were not part of God’s family, but now – because of Jesus – we are. Having written about the hope we are to have because of Christ, and the holiness we are to strive for because of the character of the God we worship, he now turns to assure us of our identity in light of God’s mercy and grace. Peter says,
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
In light of God’s mercy, the mercy we have received through faith in Jesus Christ, we have moved into a position of being part of God’s royal priesthood, part of his special possession. Through the mercy of God we have been chosen and included into God’s family. At one point, like a baby, we were separated from God. We couldn’t know him or be with him. But now that we have received the mercy of God through Jesus, we are his forever!
Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.
This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.
What this means, then, is that the pressure to prove ourselves is nullified. Of course, we want to do a good job and be the best we can be in our youth ministry role. However, the pressure of pastoral performance is lessened as we hold the title and role loosely in light of our identity in Christ.
This is not an easy thing to do. I am constantly wanting to do better, to prove myself as a great youth pastor, capable of serving and saving everyone. But the fact is, it is not I that serves and saves anyone, it is our Lord Jesus.
How often do we need to be reminded of who we are in Christ? As Peter writes this little nugget of truth for us he provides us encouragement as we remember the gospel of God through the mercy of God. Whatever roles we find ourselves in – pastor, mentor, teacher, leader, and more – may we speak and teach this mercy to ourselves and to those in our care. For through this gospel of mercy we find who we truly are.