The life of a youth pastor can often be very grueling and exhausting. I have asked myself several times, ‘What is the point to all of this?’ Many churches expect youth pastors to perform and produce tons of success!
But, does success in ministry come out of what you do or who are you? How do you view success? How do define success? Is it based on a number, a positive emotion, or through your identity? If you do not meet expectations do you deem yourself a failure? Is success measured by how much attention or positive feedback you receive after accomplishing a task?
It is easy to get caught up in the unrealistic expectations that are placed on our lives and ministries. Church leaders place high expectations on our ability to grow numbers and see lives changed that often times expand beyond our capabilities and control. Those closest to us often expect us to be able to drop anything and everything to meet their needs. Parents expect us to raise their students in the admonition of the Lord. They place the majority of spiritual responsibility on our shoulders. Students expect us to be the father they never had, the best friend they wish they could have, and their spiritual replacement for God.
Attempting to fully meet these expectations will often lead us to living out of fear and guilt, which then leads us to completing a whole bunch of tasks to seek the approval of others. Nobody wants to be in bad standing with his or her boss. Nobody wants to disappoint close family or friends. No youth pastor desires to have a parent upset or angry because his or her child has not received enough personal attention. The majority of youth ministry leaders are naturally people pleasers who want to maintain a sense of happiness and peace in every area of life.
Fulfilling tasks can easily lead to growth, which deems us as ‘successful.’ Our ministries are growing numerically. Our families seem happy to somebody on the outside. We might even get a raise or promotion!
But instead of finding success as numerical growth or happiness, we must base our success on our identity in Christ! Are we living a life worth imitating? Are we producing disciples and leaders who truly care for people? Are our families living on mission for the cause of Christ? Do the parents within our ministry truly understand what it means to be the pastors of their home?
We often get caught up in unrealistic or unhealthy expectations. We strive to be great and work overtime, but fail to actually abide in Christ and find our identity in Him. Ultimately, we miss the opportunity to produce spiritual fruit based on a relationship with Christ. I have spent quite a bit wrestling through what it looks like to be successful in ministry and to live a life on mission for God.
Matthew 6:21 – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Proverbs 4:23 – “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Luke 6:45 – “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
The heart contains our identity. It is what gives us life, purpose, meaning, and value. It is where we find the well-being of our lives. What if we viewed success out of who we are, not out of what we do? What if we truly found our identity in a relationship with Christ and not our position or title? Would our ministries look different? Would our calendars be affected? Would our priorities change as we reflect on who God truly is?
What if we looked at our lives and said, ‘I am not a pastor; I am a follower of Christ. I am not a son or daughter with messed up parents, but a child of God! I am not required to achieve the approval of man, because God has already bought me with a price, stamped His loving approval on my life, and has filled me with His grace and mercy! I am not just a husband or father, but I have been hand-picked by God to be the spiritual leader of my home!’
Imagine the fruit, not growth, we would see if we served, lived, and abided out of our identity in Christ! The ultimate success story is to leave a legacy worth imitating and to have Jesus look at us and say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant!’
At the center of every fruitful story is a heart that finds its identity in a relationship with Christ! An increase in numbers does not equate to success. But increased desires to live like Jesus lived and do as Jesus did will always produce spiritual fruit! Above everything else, we must seek God first! As we pour our heart into a growing relationship with Him, we must seek His approval. Don’t live out of fear of what may be. Prioritize family and develop a culture of accountability through authentic community. Never be afraid to stand up for what is most important!
As followers of Christ, we must trust that His voice is louder than anyone around us! Trust that He has a plan that is greater than you could ever imagine. Ultimately, find success in who you are in Christ, not out of what you can accomplish!