There are many mountaintop moments in youth ministry, but honestly there’s also a litany of hurts, disappointments, and struggles. It can easily feel as if someone’s always mad at you, you can’t keep up, or you’re letting down either your family or your ministry or both. It’s easy to get consumed with the list of things that needs to be done and lose sight of what God is doing in your group of leaders and students—and in you. Galatians 6: 9-10 exhorts:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
We know we need to keep going among the challenges, but what are some practical ways to stay encouraged? Here are some things I discovered as a youth leader that helped me combat the frustration:
1. Create a display of all your students.
Take an individual picture of every single student (or download them from social media), print them, and hang them up in your office. If you don’t have an office or a place to hang the pictures, make a collage to use as the background of your computer screen or phone.
The main concept here is to have a visual reminder that you see often of the real reason why you do what you do: to make a difference in the lives of the students that are in your group—specifically, to point them to Jesus. I implemented this idea many years ago after reading Greg Stier’s Ministry Mutiny. This fictional book involves a youth leader struggling with discouragement, as well as an experienced, thriving youth leader who is mentoring him and has pictures of his students hung up.
When I created my display, I bought large collage frames to make it nicer, but you could easily just use string and little clothespins. I also put up a little sign that said It’s Worth It at the top of my display to make it super-clear to me every time I needed encouragement.
After I hung the pictures up, I found myself praying more for the students individually and gained a better perspective on what God was doing. It made a huge difference in defeating the discouragement I often faced.
2. Regularly meet with a student who is thriving in their journey with Jesus.
I originally tended to pour out all my energy to the students who demanded it most. They often needed lots of encouragement and help, because they were going through difficult times. While it’s important to invest in new or struggling Christians, it can also be very draining.
In contrast, I found spending some time over lunch or a coffee with a student who is on-fire for God was rejuvenating—like a bolt of fresh energy for the mission at hand. Once I discovered this, I resolved to meet with a leadership student one-on-one at least once a month.
This new habit not only encouraged me and the student I was investing in, but it also helped the whole youth group. I found that a small amount of personal time with a passionate, Jesus-following student went a long way in motivating them to reach out to many other students in the youth group and be willing to lead in new ways.
3. Worship Jesus somewhere separate from your church or youth services.
Mark off time on your calendar to make this a priority. Whether you connect with and worship God best with music, praying, writing, being in nature, or reading, be sure to follow through in quality time with Jesus.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to do this:
- Go to a worship concert.
- Write down praises about God, how you feel, and what you need help with in a prayer journal.
- Put on some worship music in an empty room and dance along.
- Play your favorite worship song on repeat, lie down, close your eyes, and just enjoy being with God!
- Go outside in a beautiful setting with just you and your Creator, and pray while walking, boating, hiking, etc.
- Spend extended time in worshipful prayer all by yourself in a dark sanctuary.
Only you know what keeps your relationship with Jesus fresh, but making this appointment a non-negotiable can take you from worn down to fired up in the short-term and keep you excited about serving students over the long haul.
Try one of these regularly or try a new one each week, and you’ll be surprised at how much it rejuvenates you and reminds you that advancing the Gospel is worth it!