A few months ago, I was tuning the radio in my car to the Colts (I know, I know…) football game as I was leaving the church parking lot. As I pulled away from my normal parking spot and clicked through my preset radio buttons, I proceeded to drive my Honda Accord directly into one of the light poles in our church parking lot. To make a long story short, tuning my radio to the Colts game ended up costing me an emergency room visit, multiple stitches in my face, and a vehicle that was a total loss. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the ridicule I received from church families!
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. As illustrated in my story, even a very small distraction can end up being very costly. When it comes to ministry, distractions can keep you from being effective and can easily lead to discouragement, division, and even burnout. Let’s identify a few distractions that are common to youth ministry. These may not all apply in every situation, but I would venture to guess you have been plagued by at least one of these.
The distraction of busyness
Let’s face it… Our culture values busyness. It seems like even middle schoolers are adept at sharing their hectic schedules with others. Perhaps it is a desire to make ourselves look important or a desire to play the martyr, but we often pack our schedules so full of activities and tasks that we forget the things that are truly important.
Being available for people in time of need, mentoring and discipleship relationships, and meaningful time with God are essential ingredients to a healthy ministry and a healthy leader. If your task list is so full that you are missing those key ingredients, maybe it is time to build some margin into your schedule.
The distraction of numbers
Numbers and growth can be great indicators of health and our ministries. But numbers are not the only metric that should be used when evaluating the scope and efficacy of your youth ministry. Perhaps you have a certain set of expectations when it comes to your attendance. Or perhaps the pressure comes from your church leadership like a good friend of mine. It seems that any event or program where his numbers are low results in a meeting with the senior pastor.
Wherever the pressure may be coming from, numbers can be a distraction from the main purposes and effectiveness of your ministry. You may have a smaller group of committed students, but maybe half of them are entering the ministry. There is far more to the effectiveness of a ministry than its size. Focus on the students you have and not the ones you want.
The distraction of criticism
Even the best leader will undergo criticism at some point. The most beloved Presidents in our nation’s history have never boasted a 100% approval rating. Receiving criticism may not be an indicator that your ministry needs an overhaul.
Instead of taking criticism personally or trying to please everyone who takes a shot at your ministry, focus on the bigger picture of what you are trying to accomplish. No one sees that vision and understands the big picture better than you do as the leader, so trust your instincts, learn what you can from the criticism you receive, and continue to lead with confidence. For a full article on how to respond to criticism effectively, check out the article here.
The distraction of staff conflict
Nothing will destroy your spirit and create division more quickly than staff conflict. It is a tragic and bitter thing when people who are supposed to be teammates are instead enemies, or at least working against one another. Staff conflict permeates every part of ministry and makes it difficult to find motivation and joy in the midst of the hard work.
Don’t allow staff conflict to grow bitterness and resentment in you. Deal with it head on, handle things biblically, and seek restoration and forgiveness before this distraction becomes the root of your exit from ministry. For more on staff conflict, check this out.
The WELCOME distraction of life
Everything has a season, and that goes for the other non-professional aspects of your life. Each one of us wants to be the best leader and mentor we can be, and all of us are devoted to reaching students for Christ. Sometimes, however, life can make effective ministry difficult to achieve. This “distraction” is different than the others in that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are certainly other things in life that SHOULD take priority over your role as youth leader or pastor. These are the things like your spouse and children and your relationship with God. Sometimes, when these areas of life need greater attention, it can affect our ability to devote our normal energy towards our youth ministry.
This refocused energy may be a blessing in that it may help you to refocus priorities, identify leaders who can step up in time of need, and challenge you to “cut the fat” from your ministry so that you can have more balance and margin. In other words, this may actually be a POSITIVE distraction. Busy seasons, health concerns, marital stress, family tragedy, and the like are rarely asked for, but can be a powerful tool for growth.
There are countless distractions that can threaten to undermine your ministry. Busyness, numbers, criticism, and staff conflict can make huge dents in your ability to effectively lead your ministry. Guard yourself against these distractions by making your relationship with God the utmost priority, by confidently and prayerfully understanding your mission and purpose, and by handing off leadership in your ministry to your adult leaders and students.
What distractions have hurt or helped your ministry the most?