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A few weeks ago, I watched a few of our college interns interacting with a Mom of a student in their small group. They all knew I was close by if needed, but they were resolving the issue themselves. It was a tough situation in that a student in the group had started pouring out a lot of the junk going on his life, and the small group leaders were still processing through that with him, praying with him, ministering to him, but it was now coming up on 45 minutes after groups were supposed to end and he needed to be heading home.
After the student and mom left, these guys came to the sad realization that doing Youth Ministry isn’t just about doing ministry to Youth. You’ve got to know about Parents, partner with them, minister to them. You’re going to face criticism for doing what you do, and you’re going to have times where it seems like it would be easier to do ministry without being part of the church.
But how do we wrestle with that? What do we do when we feel like nothing comes easy, when opposition is everywhere, when despite our best efforts we’re not gaining any ground?
Frustration can come in any number of shapes and sizes, and so HOW we deal with specific frustrations can vary. But there are also a number of things we can do to fight frustration in general that help. These are just a few pieces of wisdom for battling through it.
I’m super fortunate to come from a family of ministers. My dad was a Sr. Pastor for nearly 40 years and is still very active in ministry. One of the greatest things my dad does for me is listen to me vent when I need to vent, but I also appreciate his responses of saying either something along the lines of “You’re right. Your frustration is completely warranted. What’s the solution?” or “Look at it from this point of view” and helping put me in my place. He’s got no skin in the game, he’s just an outside voice who knows what it’s like working in a church, and sometimes all we need is to hear that affirmation of “You’re right. That is a tough situation. I can’t tell you what the solution is, but I know it’s not just shutting down.” That’s why I love our YouthMin.org Facebook Community, for youth workers to share frustrations in a safe place and get advice from thousands of other youth pastors. Some Youth Workers have no one else to go to, and if that’s you, join our group!
For me, these three things all go together in one process. Giving frustrations to God is huge, spending that time in prayer just going over his glory and grace and remembering that He is the one who sits on the throne, He is the one who is writing the story, above anything else, helps my mind get in the right place and begin moving past the frustration. Ultimately, there is no frustration that can’t be overcome, and as bad as it can be in the moment, it’s not the end of the world. God still sits on the throne. I also like to spend some time in the word, especially in the New Testament reading stories of the Ministry of the Apostles. Last week, I shared about how Barsabbas dealt with not being chosen despite having the same qualifications as Matthias. That had to be frustrating! But he stuck with it, and I love that. I love Timothy and Ephesus, seeing that ultimately his ministry didn’t keep Ephesus from being called out in Revelation, but no one would say Timothy was a failure. Paul and Barnabas having a disagreement to the extent that they go separate ways. Just story after story that can help remind me there is a far greater story being told here and my momentary frustration can be moved past.
While dwelling on problems isn’t healthy, not addressing them is just as dangerous. When it comes down to it, there are practical steps you can do to address frustrations, though they will vary. The question I have come to be asking a lot during tough times is “What is in my control? What is not in my control?” basically asking, what can I do about this, what are the things that are causing this that I can’t change. Just looking at a recent issue, our numbers for High School have been way down, scary low compared to the last few years. It’s one of those seasons that gets you questioning everything you are doing, because although numbers aren’t the most important thing, the drop is a huge problem. But I also am able to see, in evaluation of the issues, there are things that we can control, i.e. the relationships that are there or aren’t there, reaching out to the missing students personally and obnoxiously, changing things up and adapting, etc. But there are also things we can’t control, for instance, graduating a ton of Sr.’s last year and not having anywhere near the same amount of 8th graders to transition up. Or the busyness of calendars, not just at the school and home and work, but within our church as well. There are things we simply can’t do anything about, and we want to know what they are, but we do it also so we can know the things we can work on.
We don’t want to just stew in frustration, you should be able to come up with an action plan for addressing the frustration. Again, what that looks like varies on situations, but it should be there.
Far too often, the easy way out comes up – just start over. We have to learn perseverance, endurance, the ability to go through seasons of frustration and come out better on the other side. Giving up is never the solution.