We must ask ourselves this critical question: “What brings us the most pleasure?” As we have already pointed out, most often we answer the question based upon personal affirmation and ministry success. Those events and accomplishments that serve to affirm our value and worth bring us joy. We experience greater personal satisfaction when people appreciate our efforts and our activities accomplish significant results. Let’s be honest, Monday morning is always brighter if our attendance was up on Sunday and people were complimentary. While these are nice, the problem is that these things are not always present. However, when we look at the early apostles, the basis for their joy differed radically from ours. We find our joy in what we accomplish in ministry; they found their joy in the ministry itself. We find our joy in the results of service; they found their joy in the act of service. The difference is enormous.
Imagine standing before a newly planted tree. For the first several years, we see rapid growth; but after a number of years, the tree seems to stop growing. In the first few years, we could measure the height of tree and measure the growth by feet. But as the years go by, the rapid upward growth slows and even seems to stop. Year after year we look at the tree and see little, if any, growth. However, reality often differs from perception. What we perceive to be the periods of little growth is actually when the tree grows the most. The greatest growth in the volume of board feet comes when the tree becomes so large it no longer appears to be growing.
So it is with the spiritual growth of people. When a person first experiences the redemption of Christ, the transformation is both dramatic and highly visible. But as time goes on, it seems as though people become stagnant with little growth occurring. However, what we fail to realize is that God is still at work within the individual.
When we encounter trials and difficulties, ministry can soon become a burden. Instead of the joy, we wonder if ministry is a curse that we must endure. However, for the apostles, the call to ministry was the greatest privilege that could be given. It is not an accident that the writers of the New Testament refer to the service of God as a “gift.” But the word “gift” is more than something given without cost. Paul uses the same word to both describe the incredible gift of our salvation (Romans 6:23) and to describe the spiritual gifts we have received to serve him (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:28). In contrast to a wage which someone gives based upon the merit of the recipient, a person gives a gift freely, and it demonstrates the benevolence and loving character of the giver.
From Voice magazine, May/June 2016. Used by permission.
You started ministry enjoying the calling given by God to those who shepherd his flock. You enjoyed communicating God’s Word each week. You fell in love with the people. Every week you rejoiced that God would enable you to give your life to the very thing you love.
With time, however, the struggles mount and the discouragements continue such that ministry soon moves from a joy-filled activity to little more than a duty thrust upon you. You begin to see ministry as merely a task to perform rather than also a privilege and calling from God. While Paul saw ministry as a gift graciously given to him (Ephesians 3:7), when going through trials in ministry you begin to wonder if it is a curse. You soon lose the joy of ministry. But is that God’s intent? Did he call you to do something where there is no joy in the task? Are you to begrudgingly go about the day “suffering for Jesus” with the hope that you will only experience the joy of Christ in the eschatological future?
There are four major biblical contexts that discuss what we commonly refer to as ”spiritual gifts.” In chronological order, they are 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:1-8, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
It is notable that the explanations of spiritual gifts become increasingly simple as the New Testament progresses. 1 Corinthians 12-14 provides a very detailed discussion, especially of revelatory and sign gifts. Romans 12:1-8 builds on the grounding of the previous eleven chapters, and considers how gifts contribute to the overall functioning together of the body. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians focuses in the first three chapters on how the believer comes to have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, and what are the implications of those blessings. In the remaining three chapters, Paul challenges believers to walk in those blessings. Throughout the letter, Paul emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Finally, in 1 Peter 4:10-11, Peter offers a very simple formula for the use of gifts and their purpose.
Some youth leaders leave youth ministry too early because they don’t have a plan. Without a plan that recirculates (yet leaves room for current and various studies throughout each year) the youth pastor continues to grow and grow, and brings kids with him, and then it becomes harder and harder to “start over” with a new group of kids.
Choosing topics to study month-to-month or week-to-week is an exhausting way to plan and teach, and it is impossible to duplicate. This kind of haphazardness (that we all have experienced to some degree as we figured out who we are in ministry) needs to be addressed so we don’t keep losing good leaders.
For some, youth ministry is just a stepping-stone to another ministry; I am not addressing those men. I am addressing the young man who is just starting out in youth ministry, with goals to change the world or at least the next generation, and plans to stay in youth ministry until God changes his passion. I am also sharing ideas with those who have been in youth ministry for years, yet struggle with continuity or structure and that fact is sapping their enthusiasm for the ministry they feel called to.
I have a concern about one concept that is affecting all of the various ministries in the church, but I want to specifically focus on youth ministry and how this concept is affecting and changing it. My area of concern is what I am going to call intellectualism.
I define intellectualism as the process in which growth can only be realized and achieved by utilizing fresh, newly discovered information in contrast to the simple and profound. It is the concept that you must always teach something new rather than something simple (that is, the Bible). Though the exploration of new truth, and exposing ourselves to ideas that we previously did not know, is a good practice and a needed part of spiritual growth, intellectualism creates an adverse climate in youth ministries and churches across our nation. Intellectualism looks down upon the simple, yet profound, teaching of the Word of God in favor of teaching new ideas with fresh methods.