How many times have you thought about giving up in Youth Ministry? If you have at least once, trust that you are in good company. The exhaustion and challenges of youth ministry can sow doubt in your calling, regret in your decisions, and jealousy for a new life. What can we turn to in those moments to remind us why we do what we do?
One of the most helpful things to turn to is our love for our students. The “why” of our ministry is to see students give their everything to Jesus, who gave His life for them. That “why” grounds us when our calling gets shaken and discouragement weighs heavy. However, it’s only helpful if it’s true for us. The “why” only helps if we truly prize our students. If we highly value our students, that love will keep us from walking away when times get tough.
Paul expresses this idea of prizing his people by writing: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Paul looks forward to the return of Christ and finds great glory and joy in being there with the Christians in Thessalonica. They are not mere numbers or just part of the job. They are his “why.” In the surrounding verses of 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13, we can see four signs of a leader who truly prizes his people, and when we pursue these traits, we can find great encouragement when things get tough.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5, Paul highlights how afflictions and temptation can hinder our walk. It culminates in this sentence: “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thess. 3:5). He is anxious to know how these new believers are doing and is desperately hoping that they have not been turned away from the faith. He will not settle for ignorance on the matter. He needs to know how they are doing spiritually.
Do you honestly care for the spiritual health and well-being of your students? You may be the only person in that student’s life who does. His coach prepares him athletically. Her teacher cares for her academically. Their parents care for them in a variety of ways, but if they are not believers, they are neglecting their spiritual state. You have the essential and heavy calling to care for them in that unique way, and that involves actually knowing how they are doing. When your heart is stirred to check in on a student or pray for a hurting student, that shows you prize them and truly want to see them in eternity.
In verses 6-10, Paul expresses the relief and joy he experienced from Timothy’s encouraging report about the Thessalonians. They have continued in their faith and love and are standing fast in the Lord, despite various trials. His fears were calmed, and he was comforted by their faith. Paul concludes, “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” (1 Thess. 3:9-10)
Does your students’ spiritual growth excite you? Do not grow numb to the progress your students are making. Every Gospel conversation is a sign of the boldness God is giving them. Every sin repented of is a sign of God’s convicting work in their hearts. Even sharing struggles is a sign of their dependence on godly community. Rejoice and celebrate even the smallest of spiritual wins!
As many of us felt during the beginning of the COVID-19 saga, Paul says, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thessalonians 2:17). While Paul was in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, many came to Christ, but a mob had run them out of the city before any roots could be set (see Acts 17:1-9). This premature departure leads him to express his desire to be reunited with them three more times in chapter 3, specifically asking God to bring them together. He genuinely wants to spend time with them because he enjoys their company and wants to encourage them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do you genuinely enjoy spending time with your students? Do you miss them when they’re not around? Every year after camp or a big youth event, I am ready to go home and relax. When I do, I genuinely miss my students and can’t wait to see them again to see how they are doing. Don’t get me wrong. I need and value that time away, but longing to be with them shows that ministering to them is something you get to do, not just something you have to do. It shows that you truly prize your students.
Lastly, Paul prays for their spiritual increase: “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). Paul desires that the love he has for them would be replicated in them. It is God’s prerogative to grow them in love and holiness in preparation for Christ’s second coming. It is not something that Paul can do, but he can ask God to do it.
Do you consistently pray for your students’ spiritual increase? My prayer lists are full of medical situations, exams they didn’t study for, and essays they forgot to write. I love praying for those things, but I’m missing the point if I am not also praying for their spiritual growth. We should be attentive to our students’ spiritual needs and specifically ask those things of God.
Deep concern, abounding joy, comforting company, and heartfelt prayer all reveal the depth of Christian love. No matter how tough it gets in ministry, we ought to prize our students with this deep Christian love. When we think of checking out, slowing down, or giving up, we remember what God has done for them in Christ and how desperately they need Him. And in that moment, Lord willing, God will fill us with new motivation and boldness to continue in the work He has planned for us.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Do you or another leader on your team know how each of your students are doing spiritually?
- How can you cultivate an environment where students share their spiritual journey regularly? How can you get students to share more prayer requests about how they want to grow?