Youth workers are like cars. Every so often we need to submit ourselves for an M.O.T. Youth work veterans Colin Bennett and Andy du Feu have compiled a ‘Spiritual M.O.T.’ – a regular spiritual check-up - to discern whether you are roadworthy, or in dire need of a little TLC.
I love cookery shows where, no matter how the chef is doing, they are ready with a textbook example and the line, ‘Here’s one I made earlier’. All of the experimental mess is simply wiped away. But there is no practice ground for ministry. No prefabricated success in the oven. Everything you do impacts real lives. It is therefore crucial that you stay fresh for the task. Here are five self-examinations to ensure that you keep well-oiled and fit for the high calling of youth ministry.
01: HOW ARE YOU DOING - IN YOURSELF?
‘He’s comfortable in his own skin.’ These were the words spoken about the new pastor of the church that I (Colin) attend. The person who said this meant that the new pastor was relaxed about who he was and how God could use him. To be comfortable in the way God has made us – fearfully and wonderfully – is the challenge we all face whether we are a youth work veteran like myself or a younger zealot like Andy, who is co-authoring this article with me. As colleagues who work together with about 230 students at Moorlands College, we know the challenges of being comfortable in life and ministry. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11-13 suggests that the secret of being comfortable in God is contentment. This is a secret that those who are involved in any kind of ministry (and especially youth ministry) need to discover, but how?
Some indicators can be seen in scripture. For example, David in his youth was such a contented man. He was zealous for God but was also comfortable and content in who he was (1 Samuel 16:7) and was strengthened by God alone when things got tough (1 Samuel 30:6). How do those of us working with young people, children or families become comfortable and content? By praying regularly? By reading scripture regularly? By being encouraged and challenged by other mature Christians? By serving God and his world
All of the above will play a part, but here’s the vital secret – it can only happen by us allowing God to completely shape our lives and attitudes so that we become more Christlike. (See Philippians 2:1-11 and Romans 12:2.)
This starts with self-awareness, both in our own levels of self-understanding and in how those aspects are influenced and affected by God. John Ortberg suggests that we all have a choice about who we are or aren’t. His phrase ‘the me who God wants me to be’ is a common theme in his work and I think is part of that secret of contentment. Being the person who God wants us to be is our lifetime’s work, for that is what God requires from us.
02: HOW ARE YOU DOING - WITH GOD?
When the pressure is on, what’s the first thing to slip? My (Andy’s) own experiences of pastoring a church, leading youth groups, and now as a tutor, have shown that it’s our spiritual lives take the hit. Test your own
spiritual health against the following three temptations we face in ministry.
i) The temptation to be God
Okay, so most of you will immediately reject that as nonsense, but I want to suggest that whether you like it or not, you probably have fallen into this trap. You often hear the call at conferences, ‘If you are a leader, or have experience of praying for people, come down and pray for people.’ It is probable that some of those stepping forward to meet the call actually need the prayer themselves, but we propagate this sense of having ‘arrived’ in ministry. Well done to Soul Survivor, who have pushed the notion of praying for each other over the past five years rather than leaving ministry to the ‘professionals’. Some of us, rather than going for prayer, would rather pray for others – you are good at helping others, but this can be at the expense of your own soul.
ii) The temptation to pass the buck
Tanya had an innovative storage solution in her bedroom – a floordrobe. Surprisingly, this caused conflict with her parents, who would demand that the room be tidy, but would often end up blitzing it themselves. Whose job is it to clean the room? Without knowing it, we ask God to do stuff that is blatantly not his to do, like clearing our rooms out, or ‘stir it up in our hearts, Lord – a passion for your name.’ I know exactly what Tim Hughes is getting at, and I’ve sung that lyric with longing countless times. But it is your job. Romans 12:11 says, ‘Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour’, or, as The Message puts it, ‘Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.’ Paul tells Timothy to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’… basically - you do it!
iii) The temptation to censor your prayers
I had a foul mouth until I was 17 years old and I started an internship in some of the toughest American neighbourhoods. Every prayer for God to stop me swearing at school had gone unanswered, until that summer.
God literally took swearing out of my vocab. Years later I was at Bible College, and under pressure. I had just become the youth worker at church, and several negative situations were getting to me. I had tried hard to pray it through and ‘bless my enemies’. But I was stretched so thin that it took the impact of a single M&M on my face, launched by another student, to make me snap. I bolted out to the field and let God know everything that I thought about the injustices, and his seeming absence. I used approximately three years’ worth of expletives in 30 seconds. Frustrated, I collapsed on the grass. In that quiet moment, I felt God say, ‘Andy, thank you for sharing’. It didn’t excuse my behaviour, but showed me that I wore a mask, even before God. He isn’t interested in your ‘PG’ prayers – he wants your ‘18’, or even ‘X-rated’ prayers, and guess what? He knows it all anyway and can handle it!
03: HOW ARE YOU DOING - WITH OTHERS?
Ever seen in detail the back of your head or your profile? I saw a photo of my profile last year; I was shocked by it, realising that I wasn’t as handsome side-on as I’d previously thought. Earlier I talked about self-awareness and again this is the starting point for working with others.
The challenge of ministry is not only how we relate to God but also to others. How we relate to others is not an optional extra but an essential aspect. In these fragmented individualistic times we live in - when many
suggest family is in meltdown in the UK, and others suggest that the love of many appears to be growing cold (2 Timothy 3:4) - those of us who are Christians need to garner a response.
For many the notion of mentoring or discipling seems to be the answer. I’ve deliberately used the two terms interchangeably, because while the word discipling - a key component of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) – is commonly used by church-based youth and children’s ministers, those working outside of the Church prefer to use the term mentoring. Investing time and effort in mentoring and discipling provides those
who want appropriately supportive help with real assistance. It is also a tangible method of intentionally engaging with children and young people, irrespective of their situations.
Yet there is an inherent danger with mentoring. For the person being mentored and even for the mentor themselves it can set up unrealistic expectations. For example: what if my mentor isn’t there when I need them? What if they let me down? How can I trust them?
Similarly, the mentor can be disappointed by the progress the mentee is or isn’t making. Perhaps too the mentor has no one caring for and supporting them as they take on the demands of mentoring.
Rob Parsons hit the nail on the head by suggesting three things we need a reality check on in dealing with others. We need to be ready for disappointment with others, ourselves and God. Dealing with disappointment, in my experience, is rarely taught in church. Yet if a youth minister is not able to handle being let down by others, it is likely they will struggle. So the challenge of being disappointed by others, let down and probably hurt is the reality that all involved in ministry will face. The way to overcome this challenge is by being rooted in God and following his great command – love God and people. Jesus encouraged us to remain in him. He then promised that if we remain in him and follow his commands (John 15:9) that he would not leave us alone as orphans but would send the Holy Spirit to equip and empower us (John 14:15-31).
04: DON'T FOOL YOURSELF - HOW DO OTHERS THINK YOU ARE DOING?
Colin and I were driving back from a gathering of youth work lecturers, and I was simply tired. I had spoken at a new event, was speaking at church the following Sunday, had a stack of papers to mark for an impossible
deadline (my fault, of course!), had neighbour difficulties and a family crisis. We were talking about the demands of ministry and I came out with the comment: ‘It’s okay, because in public I can just turn it on.’ The words were out before I had a chance to engage my brain, but they betrayed where I was really at spiritually. Colin immediately challenged me: ‘Those are dangerous words, Andy.’
I was glad I had someone who could talk straight with me. There are times to work around the bases and explore issues gently, but if you do not have someone who can speak to you with a baseball bat then you have a great chance of living in self-deception. When I was a student I ran for the chair of the student council. Nick, 19, also ran for it and put posters around college with his cheesy face and the line, ‘Vote with your heart!’ I’m not one for subversion, but that night I went on a stealth mission and taped a Bible verse across every single smug smile:
‘The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?’ Jeremiah 17:9.
Boom! Actually, neither of us made the chair, but if anyone can convince me that I am right and others are wrong, it’s me. And it’s the same for you. You can kid yourself that you are okay, that if you just make it through the next term it will calm down and you will be fine.
Give someone permission to speak into your life. Proverbs 27:6 says that, ‘Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.’ If they are a Christian friend they should, ‘Speak the truth in love’
(Ephesians 4:15). Truth and no love is brutal. Love with no truth is a waste of time and helps no one.
04: THE LAST WORD - KEEP WELL
Two youth workers were lamenting the sudden failing of a colleague who led what was a thriving project. While they sipped their lattes one summarily ventured: ‘Well, at least he went out with a bang, and didn’t fizzle out.’ The younger, yet wiser, said: ‘I don’t know. Either way, fizz or bang, you’re out.’ More than ever we need men and women serving God and living well, honouring him with how we honour others and ourselves. Wellness is a divine imperative: ‘What good is it if you gain the whole world yet lose your soul?’ (Mark 8:36). Stay fresh… in Jesus’ name.
COLIN BENNETT AND ANDY DE FEU are part of the team at Moorlands College. Colin is the vice-Principal, Andy is director of youth and community work - www.moorlands.ac.uk.