Finding Success in our Identity

Quotation-Timothy-Keller-failure-work-success-identity-Meetville-Quotes-39615The 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!

Our Kids’ Identity Crisis: Equipping Hearts for Jesus

342023268_640Where do your kids find their identity? What are you doing to lead your kids to an identity in Christ? Today’s culture leads our kids towards finding identity in relationships, sports, school, or entertainment. It is easy to connect with a movie character or find our identity in what is popular. Because of this, we desire to establish relationships similar to the ones portrayed in Hollywood. Our kids begin talking and acting like the kids in every Disney show, singing the songs that are on Top 40 radio stations, and living out of pursuit of popularity instead of the pursuit of Jesus Christ! I have seen my kids find their identity in their gifts, abilities, and talents. Landon, our 7-year old son, is an excellent baseball player who often centers who he is on his success or failures on the field. If he has a great game – he is a great person to be around; if he struggles, watch out! Our girls struggle to identify with anything beyond what they see on television, hear on the radio, or learn those around them. While establishing a culture of discipleship within our families is of the utmost importance, I do not believe secluding our kids completely from culture and the world around us accomplishes what God desires. This often leads to an identity in legalism or established religion, instead of in a relationship with Christ! As we live out the truth of God’s Word and speak life into your kids, they will begin experiencing identity in Christ! Here are three practical keys to leading your kids

  1. Speak words of affirmation & self-worth – Our kids need to hear words of encouragement, love, and grace. We must use our words wisely as we live out the responsibilities of parenthood. So much of culture preaches and teaches that affirmation and worth are found in success and relationships. Our kids need to know that they are God’s creation, made in His image, and designed to bring Him honor and glory. They do not need to accomplish a list of 100 things to obtain God’s love. It is available to anybody who believes in Him! I have seen so many teenage girls run to a relationship to experience love and self-worth. What are we doing to establish a life of worthiness in a relationship with Christ? Are you speaking words of defamation or words of affirmation?
  2. Establish cultural boundaries – I do not believe that God has called us to seclude ourselves from the entire world. He has not only called us to be in the world, but has also given us the responsibility to reach the world. The Village, one of my favorite movies of all-time, is about a countryside town that isolates itself from the surrounding world. They missed their purpose and placed their identity in their cultural traditions. Within modern Christianity, this can often lead to a legalistic relationship based on rituals, tradition, and rules. It causes us to miss the incredible love, grace, and compassion offered to us in a relationship with Christ! At the same time, I see incredible value in setting boundaries around our kids’ interactions with culture. There are certain shows our children are not allowed to watch. There are certain types of music that we do not listen to. We do not have cable, do not allow our kids to stay the night at a random friend’ house, and do not own a video game system. As our girls get older we will begin working towards a life of modesty and purity, and as our boys mature we will work to impart a life of love and respect. Most importantly, we believe training our children in the admonition of the Lord will help instill an identity in Christ, not culture!
  3. Approach the Heart – I wish I could say I have this one mastered! I want my kids to obey and immediately do what I have asked them to do. I often become so focused on the actions and attitudes that I miss the heart! I want my kids to have the knowledge of who God is, but I often skip from their hearts and go straight from the heads to their hands. We cannot miss our kids’ hearts! There is a time and place for discipline and a time and place to approach the actions, but we cannot miss the attitude of the heart. As we accomplish this, their actions will become a representation of their authentic love for God!

Romans 5:6-11 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Are we living out these words of Paul in front of our kids? Do we believe that while ‘we were still powerless, Christ died for’ us? It is only through a relationship with Christ that we can experience true reconciliation! His love is more affirming than any relationship we will ever know. Abiding in Him gives us purpose and worth that goes beyond anything we could ever imagine. Our kids need to hear these words as well! Lead by example and speak life into your children every chance you get!