Seeing myself as a sinner in need of God’s grace reminds me that I am just like the person with whom I’m talking. The only difference is that I’ve received a gift they have not yet received.
Conflict causes us to shift in our chairs uncomfortably and makes our blood boil out of pure rage. Most of us have become accustomed to responding to conflict in only these two ways, and both responses are unhealthy. Just because we're Christians doesn't mean we are to sweep all conflict under the rug and not confront the moment at hand. It also doesn't mean we charge with our fists clenched ready to punch to prove our dominance, 'better' leadership, and verbal condescension into the moment to make sure we come out victorious.
BY JOSH CONSALVO
Starting out in youth ministry can be a unique challenge. You not only have to learn the procedures, policies, traditions, and culture of your church, but you also are put in charge of investing in the lives of a group of teenagers who you may have never met. Here are some things to keep in mind when the going gets tough in youth ministry.
Small victories can have the biggest payoffs.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that some teenagers are just not quite “there” spiritually. I’ve spent countless hours feeling like I’m not doing my job because sometimes I just don’t see my students “getting it.” When fighting those lies, take joy in the simple victories. This could look like a student asking a good question in Bible study, that moment you see something “click” while teaching, or it could be a conversation you have with a student where they finally open up to you about situations they’re dealing with. These seemingly small victories can be huge boosts when you are wrestling with difficult days in ministry.
Consistency is key.
Every time I wrap up a lesson on a Wednesday night, I inevitably ask myself “Did anyone get anything out of that?” or “Are my students learning anything from me?” Despite this still being a hurdle I have to jump on a weekly basis, I always try to remind myself that it is unrealistic to put all of the spiritual responsibility on myself.
Rely on consistency. Teach students what the Bible says and be someone who tries to emulate the character of Jesus. Trust that God will work in the hearts of your students. As long as you’re faithful to your call and your heart is in the right place, God will work in your student’s lives. Be consistent with your students in your teaching and in your relationships with them. Your ministry can grow through consistency. Be consistent in the way you teach, the way you build relationships, the way you mentor and lead. Our culture is constantly changing, and the world is constantly changing the narrative about how we should be living our lives. Consistency in showing students the person of Jesus through everything you do is imperative to ministry.
Being available is half the battle.
Availability is essential in student ministry. What good is serving students if I’m not available to them when they need me? I always want to be one text message away. Honestly, this mostly manifests itself in normal, everyday things like impromptu pickup basketball games, board games, and spur-of-the- moment trips to Cookout. However, if I am available to them in the small, normal, day to day things of life, they know that I’ll also be available to them in times where they might not know where else to go. I want my students to know that my office door is always open and that they can come by whenever they want. This culture of availability can lead to some of your most fruitful seasons of ministry. Simply having an open door policy for your students can lead to meaningful conversations about God, relationships, and where they are ultimately headed in life.
Pursue, pursue, pursue.
If I’ve learned anything from my time in youth ministry, it’s that students want to feel included. If your students feel truly invested in your ministry, growth will happen from both a spiritual and numerical perspective. However, facilitating this culture starts with you. You must pursue your students. Invite them to a game night, buy them lunch, send group text messages, engage them on Sunday morning, anything it takes to let them know you care about them.
Don’t underestimate the power of a relentless pursuit. Don’t fear rejection, because ultimately your job is to love on your students with everything you have and live with the results. Whether you’re pushing for big calendar events like camp, D-Now, weekend retreats, or you just hope to keep a steady group for weekly Bible study, pursue your students fervently.
And don’t forget to pursue them in prayer. Pray that the power of the Holy Spirit draws them in, and not just to your youth ministry, but closer to God. If the Holy Spirit is guiding them, they will desire to be at Bible studies, Sunday morning worship, youth dinners, and summer mission trips. Pray consistently, pray specifically, and pray expectantly for God to do more than you ask for in the lives of your students.
About the author:
Josh Consalvo is a youth minister at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and ministry is the only thing he loves more than the New York Mets. Follow him on Twitter @joshconsalvo.
I’m convinced that so many youth workers experience burnout and leave student ministry within their first five years, not from a lack of effort or submission to God’s will, but from a lack of momentum. I have worked in small and large student ministries, and believe me when I say that it is a lot easier in any ministry when you have momentum.
The Body of Christ is constantly learning, growing, and in need of some encouragement and each other. When we know a part of the Body is struggling, how can we help him/her by not just saying “hang in there”, “try harder”, or "I hope it gets better,” but actually doing something to help.
In order to be active in our commitment to belong to each other, we must understand that someone's struggle affects not just them alone, but the entire Body of Christ.