Youth ministry can be challenging and discouraging at times. So how do you stay positive, encouraged and fueled for life and ministry in the midst of chaos both inwardly and outwardly? Here are 7 ways that I've found helpful...
1. Build and cultivate friendships both inside and outside the church.
When David was discouraged his best friend Jonathan came and encouraged him in the Lord. 1 Samuel 23:16 tells us, "And Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God."
Do you have friends who you can turn to (and who can turn to you) when the going gets tough? Friendships are essential to fight against discouragement in our souls. I thank God for my friends who consistently encourage me in the messiness of ministry!
2. Spend copious amounts of time in prayer.
Prayer changes us and transforms situations. It allows us to wrestle through with God until "the peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) rules in our hearts fully. I know there have been countless times (including today) where I've wrestled with God in prayer until his peace marinates down into my bones.
Are you spending enough time in honest conversation with God through prayer? He's longing to connect and give you the comfort you are longing for.
3. Sleep well and eat right.
It's true even of prophets. 1 Kings 19:3-9 makes this clear. When Queen Jezebel issued a death warrant for Elijah he was terrified and depressed. Some would say (including me) that at one point he was clinically depressed. Here's how the Bible describes it, "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.' So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
Not to sound unspiritual but sometimes, in addition to prayer and friends, we need a good night sleep and to start eating well to counteract the sadness that rages in our souls. We are more than spiritual and emotional beings. We are physical ones. When we eat healthy and sleep well it's easier to deal with the other kinds of issues we are facing in our lives.
4. Gospelize your youth ministry.
When you start to see eternal results in your youth ministry it will encourage you in the deepest parts of your soul. Every teen who puts their faith in Jesus will give you soul fuel to keep on keepin' on in the midst of the challenges of life and ministry. Youth ministry is a hard job and can be extremely disillusioning at times. But when lives are changed and souls are saved it creates positivity inwardly and positive momentum outwardly to push ahead effectively.
This is the area I especially love helping youth leaders to grow in. As a matter of fact I'm coming to a ton of cities this Fall (starting in early September and continuing through November) to do our Built for Boldness Youth Leader training. Lunch is on us and you'll gather with tons of other youth leaders in your area for this highly interactive time of training, fun and spiritual refueling. You'll also discover how to build a BOLD youth ministry vision that "gospelizes" your youth group and community.
I hope to encourage you there!
5. Read the Word...then read some more.
God's Word breathes strength into weakened hearts. Once again, the shepherd-turned-warrior-turned-king, David himself, knew where he could go to fill up his empty heart. In Psalm 119:28 he wrote these words, "My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word."
Again and again and again David found his strength in God and His Word. We can too.
Do you have time slated in your schedule to go to the spring of God's Word and get your dry soul satisfied and saturated with the very words of God? If not, it's time. Yes, I know you're busy. I'm busy too. But the busier we are the more it is necessary.
6. Get on a fitness routine.
When I was in my late twenties I allowed myself to get really out of shape. As a result I got stressed and stressed others out more often than not. I was so out of shape that I used to have to take a nap everyday in the middle of the day. Finally I got on a fitness routine. Regular physical activity helped me turn things around. Not every one of my problems disappeared when I started a fitness routine (not by a long shot) but, to be honest, I felt better. And when you feel better you are able to handle problems better...including discouragement.
7. See a counselor if you need to.
I can't help but thank God for a counselor God put in my pathway early in my ministry efforts. His listening ear and spiritual input into my life has been invaluable over the years, especially in the high stress formative years of Dare 2 Share. God used him to help me walk through some very dark times in my life.
Maybe you too have some struggles that require next level attention. Find a good, godly counselor to pour into you. It's worth the investment. It's worth the time.
These are seven ways I fight discouragement in youth ministry. What are some ways you fight it?