Sometimes I feel the most humbling lessons I learn in ministry come straight from looking at what my teenagers are struggling with. This week?
One of the things I feel like I’ve been pounding into my teenagers lately is the fact that we set extremely unrealistic standards for ourselves, standards that we don’t hold anyone else to. Teenagers feel like they need a boyfriend/girlfriend in order to fit in, yet don’t judge a friend or even an adult leader at church for being single. Female teenagers feel like they have to be thin in order to fit in, and male teenagers feel like they need to be built. So I ask them, “I’m an unmarried, hefty adult. Am I worthy of love?” They assure me that I am. So I ask, “Why do you hold yourself to a standard that you don’t hold me to?” They usually take a while to chew on that before humbling.
Later, when I think and pray over these conversations, the irony hits me: In my ministry, I hold myself to standards that I don’t hold other youth ministers to. Here are a few:
- I expect my ministry to grow exponentially, but when another church doesn’t grow or it even loses members, I don’t think twice. I spend nights crying over lost students in my church, but not over others.
- I force myself to read tons and tons of books or write tons and tons of blogs, but don’t think that others need to do this. Educationally, I hold myself to a different standard.
- I expect all of my students to read their Bibles daily, pray, and have real relationships with Jesus.
- I wish for my next church to be a huge church, or to become the next Josh Griffin, or to become famous in the youth ministry world (don’t lie, you want this too). But obviously everyone can’t be famous, obviously there’s a need for small-church youth pastors, and obviously I’m not as cool as Josh Griffin.
- Personally, I push myself further because I am a female, and I feel like I need to somehow be “better” than the males in my field, to somehow “prove” myself.
- I set the standard that it is my responsibility alone to do these things. With this expectation, I miss out on what my volunteers are able of doing, but more importantly forget about the work that is necessary for parents to do.
It is extremely dangerous to pressure ourselves to be perfect, when we don’t expect that out of others. It is also incredibly egocentric. So I encourage you, fellow friends in youth ministry, to look at these standards you are holding yourself to. Do you hold others to the same? In the same way that a teenage girl needs to drop the ideal of a thin physique in order to be worthy, what are some standards that you need to drop in order to create a healthier ministry?
Heather Lea Campbell works with at-risk youth in the city of St. Louis. In her spare time, she loves: networking with fellow youth workers, St. Louis Cardinals, hanging out with her kid sister, shaking from coffee consumption, judging others' grammatical errors, and laughing at her own jokes. Read more at http://heatherleacampbell.me or follow her @heatherlea17 #womanyouthpastorswag