You’re not broken and you’re not done. The feeling of burn out—like you’ve just hit another wall—it isn’t the end of you. But like a check-engine light, it’s a signal that it’s time to come before the Father, who gives His Spirit without measure, and be refreshed…
Read more below from youth pastor, Ryan Harmon, on how to be refreshed in this season.
I had every intention of beginning this article with a brief summary of the crazy days we’re living in, while bringing special emphasis to the absolutely wild ride this pandemic has been for youth workers in particular, I’ll save you the cringe-worthy opener and get right to the point:
You need more of the Holy Spirit than you’ve ever had, right now. In fact, I’ll go ahead and spoil the end of the article by telling you that if you try to engage in ministry in this new season (praise God for a new year) without a fresh dose of the Holy Spirit, you will fail miserably and most likely hurt the individuals and groups that God has called you to lead.
Before I come out and say everything I’m feeling, I want to bring encouragement to you, the youth worker. You’re doing a fantastic job. Sure, you feel like you’re not doing enough and probably, most-definitely, wish things could be different for you and your students, but please take a moment to pause: your work is not in vain. Did you hear me? There is meaning to your work in this time.
I’ve been thinking of Nehemiah a lot during this season. Nehemiah was a man who was living in a place that wasn’t his home, serving a master who had taken his people by force. Life looked very-different for God’s people since being taken into captivity, but Nehemiah had a steady job as cupbearer to the king and for what it’s worth, he was a lot better off than most people. What strikes me about Nehemiah is that when the Lord spoke to him about returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls, he leaned into it. He let the Spirit of God work in him and push him to action.
It’s kind of like when God called you into the ministry. Maybe you had a cush-gig at another job, or maybe your life was smooth sailing. Following the call of God into youth ministry is no easy thing and I commend you for it, but I want to encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. When Nehemiah followed his burden to Jerusalem, he was almost immediately met with opposition by a few idiots who didn’t like that he was putting the work in. When they approached Nehemiah to get him off his game, Nehemiah has a fantastic response for them. Check out Nehemiah 6:3:
“And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
I can’t come down. How good is that? Nehemiah was unmoved when an opposing force came his way. Why? Well, I think there’s a few reasons. For starters, he knew Who called him. If God put this on his heart, who was he to cave in when someone had a problem with his work? So what if no one else shared his burden, he wasn’t after anyone’s approval but God’s. It makes you wonder at how often we get paralyzed in ministry because someone doesn’t agree with our vision, philosophy, or practice. Who called you? If the answer isn’t God, then it’s time to readjust some things, but if the answer is God—then it’s time to redirect your focus back to Him.
I think another factor to Nehemiah’s success in the face of adversity had to be the covering he functioned under. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying that he had permission. If you know the whole story, you know that the King of Persia told him to go. Even though Nehemiah had the burden from God, he knew that he needed permission. Nehemiah was successful because he didn’t just have God’s backing, he had his leader’s as well.
Another reason for Nehemiah’s ability to overcome adversity had to be the people he had around him. It’s obvious that he couldn’t build the wall himself—heck, if he’s like most people I know, he wouldn’t know the first thing about constructing a protective barrier for a city. Nehemiah knew that teamwork would make the dream work and he assembled a massive squad of individuals to help him accomplish the feat. If you have some time, take a few minutes to read the last few chapters of the book where he compiles a list of everyone who helped with building the wall. The list is massive and brings me so much encouragement.
Alright, while Nehemiah’s story has the power to bring us encouragement as leaders in the middle of a difficult time, there’s still more to our ministry than good friends, great leaders, an empowering boss, and an initial Word from God. In a season like the one we’re finding ourselves in, we need—need, need, need!—to have a fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit. It’s no longer enough to simply read your Bible and bookend your day with prayer (not that it’s ever been enough, but hear me) if we’re not actively pursuing a relationship with the Holy Spirit here and now.
Let’s be honest with ourselves; any girl or guy with charisma and access to a youth ministry blog can come up with fun icebreaker games or organize Zoom life groups. It doesn’t take a genius to throw together an interactive online service (but shout out to everyone who had to learn technology overnight) and it most-definitely doesn’t take a Bible College degree to preach to your students. However, it does take the power of the Holy Spirit to see lasting fruit in the lives of our students.
Part of me feels conflicted for even writing that last paragraph, like I’m showing someone how a magic trick works or telling the answer to a riddle. Hear me when I say that youth ministry is difficult and leading in a pandemic is no easy thing, but sadly it can be (and is) done sometimes without the power of the Holy Spirit. Things might be going great right now but without the Holy Spirit, we’re liable to get hurt or hurt somebody else.
When I talk about needing the Holy Spirit, I know that the Spirit of God has been in you since you first decided to follow Jesus. However, it takes conscious effort and awareness to daily pursue the divine exchange of our strength with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to do effective ministry. We give up what we can offer, whether a lot or a little, and receive the strength of Christ through the Holy Spirit in return. We invite the Holy Spirit to come into the centre of everything we do.
For some of us, the Holy Spirit is currently a guest in our home, but has no power to rearrange the furniture. I’m suggesting we give him the power to put our entire house in order every single day.
Youth worker, you were never meant to carry the weight of ministry on your own. The God-given talents you possess: your ability to think and troubleshoot in a pandemic, your knack for incorporating pop-culture references into sermons, and the way you gracefully ride the line of relevant and reverent—as important as it is to possess these skills, they were only ever given so that you would have something to partner with the Spirit of God. He cares about the Church, ministry, your students, and YOU more than you do.
You see, our best efforts are but a glimpse of what life and ministry could be and will be once we become fully submitted to the Holy Spirit. The biggest ministry-win you could dream of pales in comparison to the harvest that waits for you on the other side of your willingness to sit, wait, and partner with Jesus.
So hear me: You’re not broken and you’re not done. The feeling of burn out—like you’ve just hit another wall—it isn’t the end of you. But like a check-engine light, it’s a signal that it’s time to come before the Father, Who gives His Spirit without measure, and be refreshed. Youth worker, now is the time to lean into the Spirit. Now is the time to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. You have what it takes to change lives and lead the generation of students before you, but not without a fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that you would take a moment—right now, even—and submit your life, ministry, and vision to the authority of the Holy Spirit. Give the Holy Spirit permission to change and rearrange things. Let go of what matters most to you and put it in His hands. This season will be your most fruitful season, but only if you’re partnering with the Holy Spirit.