Earlier this summer I got back from leading my first Young Life camping trip. It was amazing. Our crew was small, but our middle school friends had the best week of their lives. We watched them laugh until they cried, sing until they went hoarse, stuff their faces with Big Cookie and ice cream pie, just about pee their pants on the high ropes course, and best of all, open their ears and hearts to the greatest news of their lives. Leaving was hard, but they are already talking about next summer. Hollaaaa!
I love this ministry. I love that kids all across the world are able to hear about Jesus and his indescribable extravagant love for them. Becoming a Young Life Leader has been one of the best decisions I have made in college. It has taught me so much about myself and the God that I love. However, sometimes learning these lessons requires heartache and challenge. This is when leading becomes hard.
Although being a Young Life leader has brought me some of the greatest joys, there have been some weeks where I feel like our ministry is an uphill battle. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. It’s those days when you wake up early to go to the school for bus arrival, only to be greeted with eye rolls and cold shoulders. It’s those weeks when hardly any kids show up at club. It’s those moments when you try and try but none of your kids are interested in camp. It’s during those times that being a Young Life leader is hardest and I struggle with why God called me to a ministry only to exhaust me.
It’s in those valleys that I find myself sounding like the Israelites who said to Moses, “…Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?” (Numbers 21:5) But in my words it sounds more like, “God why have you called us to this ministry and to this school only for us to fail?”
Last fall, my team went to the school the night before the first day of the school year. We sat outside the doors to the school and prayed. We prayed for the school year and for the kids that would walk through the doors the following day. When we finished praying, we started talking about our hopes and dreams for the school. Our dreams were simple. We wanted hearts to turn toward Jesus. The conversation continued and we started talking about how our time in the school and in this ministry was worth it to see these kids come to know Him. It was then that my co-leader said something along the lines of, “Even if only one kid comes to know Jesus during our time leading, it’s still worth it.” My mind immediately went a step further. “What if no kid ever meets Jesus during our time leading? Is it still worth it?”
That question has been on my mind for the past year. “If no kid ever comes to know Jesus, is it worth it?” And just like the Israelites, my questioning has led me to reevaluate my heart and my trust in the Lord. The more I consider my heart during these times, I can’t help but sense the Lord asking me, “Am I enough for you? Am I worth it?”
It’s been a tough question to answer. At the end of the day when we can’t run club, contact work is a challenge, and no kids are signed up for camp, is Jesus enough? In other words is doing it for Him enough to keep us going? Or better put, is my motivation and satisfaction rooted in the results of our ministry or are they rooted in the God we are called to serve and glorify in our ministry?
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong to mourn for our kids when we so badly want them to meet Jesus. We should be mourning for them. Kids needing to hear about Jesus should motivate us to go to the schools and to run club. I also think it’s normal to be frustrated when we so badly want to see God turn our schools around and it doesn’t seem to be happening. Is “righteous frustration” a good term for these scenarios? The frustration I’m talking about is the kind that results when we make an idol out of 80 person clubs. Like I said, it’s good to want kids. (If you don’t want them, you probably shouldn’t be leading.) The point I’m getting at is this: if our success and the motivation for our ministry is only found in numbers of kids or in the “fruit of our labor” then when our numbers dwindle it will be easy to feel defeated, exhausted, and frustrated. So then, we must understand our success differently and re-evaluate where our satisfaction is coming from.
Throughout the Bible we see again and again that God was working in ways his people couldn’t see, and in their hardship they were confused at why he seemed silent. Some of them understood later why God had allowed certain tragedies or events to take place but some of them never saw what the Lord was doing.
I think the same is true in ministry. If we believe we serve an all good and sovereign God, then we have to trust that he is working in ways we can’t always see. We’re human and we want to see the fruits of our labor. We want to see the victory, the reward, the prize of our hard work. In the case of Young Life, we want to see thriving clubs, big camp trips, and hearts that are turning to Jesus. But if we’re honest with ourselves, these are not always the results.
Just like the Israelites, when we are tired and frustrated, we can either become doubtful and discouraged or we can let our trust in God our Rock be enough to keep us going. If God has called you to be a leader, he will use you. But again, sometimes he is using us in ways we can’t see and if we are to keep going after kids, we have to trust that God is at work.
I think many of my own uphill weeks are a result of not surrendering my team, our kids, and our school to the Lord. I let my joy, peace, and satisfaction rest on the results of our ministry. The more I grow in my faith, the more I realize just how much God wants us to desire Him and be satisfied by Him alone. When I allow Him and my trust in Him to be enough, I realize that my idea of success in ministry begins to change. Success changes from being a matter of numbers, to being about bringing Him glory. We bring God glory when we are obedient to the call he has put on our lives as leaders. Sometimes that obedience results in thriving clubs, other times that obedience means trusting that God has not “brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness,” but is working in ways we can’t see.
If the Lord has called you to lead, it will always be worth it.
So here’s the challenge: Is Jesus alone enough to keep you going?