A few years back I went through a tough season. Ministry was fine and students were being cared for—but I wasn’t. I was working too much. I hadn’t been exercising. And I wasn’t connecting well with my wife and daughter. To be honest, I was setting myself up for failure by allowing my identity to be wrapped up in my doing rather than my being.
If I had spent much more time in that mindset (and really “heart-set”), I would have been no good to myself, my family, or my ministry. But I wasn’t due a sabbatical, there was no retreat to go to, and my rhythm of taking time with the Lord had been interrupted for longer than I’d like to admit. So I asked my pastor if I could take some time off—especially a Sunday—so I could just reconnect with God, refocus on my calling, and ground myself in honest conversation with a good brother in Christ. Thankfully, the pastor said yes because he’d seen me struggling, too.
In order to be the best leader for the teenagers God’s given you, you have to pay attention to your own faith journey and well-being. You have to live that journey in community and show willingness to be honest with yourself. Most clearly, if you haven’t made loving God a priority, then loving others can become noise.
Don’t take my word for it: In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul makes a case that as followers of Jesus given gifts for the edification of the body, we have to use those gifts from a place of love. Without love, we as youth leaders are noise, our ministry efforts will amount to nothing and gain nothing. In contrast, Paul goes on to state that it is faith, hope, and love that have permanence.
3 words to help you reconnect with Jesus when you’re facing ministry burnout
You and I as youth leaders can lean into these three realities all the time, and especially when we’re too focused on our doing for God and not being with God. Here are a few thoughts about how you could reconnect with Jesus.
When faith is difficult to access, let me suggest you take time and remember. Remembering is the way we access trust, and trust is the rock from which we exercise our faith. The Bible goes to great lengths to tell us to remember God’s goodness, that God cares about and for us, and that “God works for the good of all of those who love God…” Trust is what we look back to when we’re struggling to have faith. It’s the flower garden springing up from the tears we’ve spent on the journey, reminding us that we can take our next faithful step.
Here’s a practice of hope you can try:
As I spent time remembering, I had to be honest with myself. That honesty prompted me to think about not only the ways I was struggling, but also the ways God was working for my good in that tough season. If you could benefit from taking a moment to look back in an honest and faithful way, try asking yourself these questions (from my friends Steve Argue and Caleb Roose):
In the past year:
When was I leading at my best? What helped me lead well?
When was I struggling in my leadership? What made leading difficult?
What’s something new we tried in ministry that went well? Why did it go well?
What’s something new we tried that didn’t go well? Why didn’t it go well?
Write what you really think. Be honest with yourself.
Re-read what you wrote, and begin to talk to God:
God, I’m grateful for…
I’m sorry for _______. Please forgive me.
I’m afraid of…
I’m hopeful for…
Hope is the assurance of a better place than the one you are in and the conviction that the unseen place will soon be visible. (Hebrews 11:1, translation mine)
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. And naming that reality is the first step to hope. When we’re no longer blind to what’s around us, we can see what’s true and what’s not. We can see opportunities and open doors. We can believe that our current place isn’t our final place.
In order to have true hope, we need both the desire and energy to follow the Lord into the next place we’re to go. Hope is a desire to arrive at a new place and then look back at the old place to watch it transform into a flower garden. If we’re ever going to be effective leaders, we must know what it means to undertake this journey ourselves. We can get in the habit of accessing hope, and the practice will be there when we need it.
Here’s a practice of hope you can try:
Draw a picture of the sun. I’m not an artist, so mine always looks like one my daughter would have drawn years ago—I start with a circle, and add 4-5 lines around it to look like sunrays. At the center of the circle, write down one thing that has your attention. It could be fear of failure, anger about injustice, despair about a relationship, frustration about your job, or something else. Once you’ve named it, slowly trace one of the sun rays away from the center. While your pen is traveling, imagine yourself moving away from that thing, emotion, situation, or person. Once your pen gets to the end, imagine the Holy Spirit opening a door to something healthy and new. What do you see? Write down that vision or opportunity. Repeat the process of tracing the sunrays and writing a new vision.
If you need a more concrete process, reflect, write, or talk to someone about these three questions:
1. Where are you struggling to feel hopeful?
2. In the past, how have you experienced hope through Jesus?
3. What do you believe is a hopeful solution to your struggle?
“Love allows us to enter paradise. Still, many of us wait outside the gates, unable to cross the threshold, unable to leave behind all the ministry and stuff we have accumulated that gets in the way of love.” – bell hooks (italics mine)
Love changes everything. It’s the foundation of our identity, it is the center of our belonging, and the vision of our purpose. It is the foundation of God’s movement in the world. Love is the end goal of both righteousness and justice.
In our work, we’re rarely the recipients of this greatness. We spend our time, energy, and resources on making sure that students and parents know that they are loved. We sacrifice our wants and desires for the sake of our call and make love a reality for the communities that we serve.
Your well-being, and ultimately your ministry, mean nothing when you don’t embrace the love that motivated you to this calling in the first place. When we’re out of balance and rhythm, our families and loved ones don’t receive the best of us, either.
Often we forget the upside-down and backwards nature of love. In order to receive love, we have to give love. We skip over the first and greatest command and rush to the second because it is more tangible. But in very real ways Jesus is sitting by a charcoal fire asking us if we love him. Jesus is asking us not to forsake our first love. Jesus is asking us to focus on the first and greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength.
Here’s a practice of love you can try:
It is amazing how often I forget Jesus’ continual presence and encouragement to live out of his love and care for me. When I do remember, these reflection prompts help me lean in. In good seasons and bad, I hope you can use them too.
Remember your baptism. I surf. So, at times when I’m in the ocean, I paddle beyond the break and take a moment to pray. The prayer goes something like this, “Help me remember you. Help me remember to let go of the things that have gotten in the way of loving you. I’m alive because of you. I’m alive in you. Make that true today.” You don’t have to be in the ocean to do this; you can remember while you’re in the shower, when you wash your hands, or when you’re out in the rain.
Remember communion. Sometimes when my family gets together for dinner, I set out a glass of juice and some bread in the middle of the table. Without saying any words at some point during dinner I’ll reach out and grab a piece of bread and dip it in the juice. The act is personal and communal and an invitation for others to do the same. The cup and bread are usually the last things cleared from the table, and they serve as a reminder of Christ’s love for me and for us.
Worship. Some days when I get in my car I intentionally turn off the music or podcasts and just listen. On other days that listening turns into singing, or listening to other people sing. I have a few songs on my list at any given time that draw my heart and mind specifically to praising God (because some songs are prayers of ‘I want’ and ‘I need,’ not ‘thank you’). Focusing on loving God is a discipline that helps me also receive God’s great love from me.
Remaining in your calling
Our desire to be great, effective leaders is big. Our need to be great disciples is bigger.
We have to consistently learn and grow.
We have to remain connected to Jesus.
We have to continue to love. As Paul reminds us, without love we are merely a bunch of noise.
Now these three remain, hope, faith and love, but the greatest of these is love.
Tweet this: Your well-being, and ultimately your ministry, mean nothing when you don’t embrace the love that motivated you to this calling in the first place.
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