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This past Sunday we held our annual High School Christmas party. As our time kicked off we had a slight issue with the food not being quite ready, so we jumped ahead and facilitated a few mixer games that our core students had organized. This was about the point I felt like I needed to frantically save what was happening and begin bucketing out the water in our sinking ship. We had a problem with the sound guy missing the queue that someone was trying to talk and the music should stop; we had a leader get into a bad attitude funk with a student; and we were struggling to create the atmosphere we needed for students to enjoy the night. Although this inspired the awkward relational dynamics of every good family Christmas, this was not quite what we had in mind when we were planning our festive party.

Perhaps you’ve been in a programming situation like this before where nothing seems to go quite right. Often when youth group meetings and programs go in a different way than I expect, I immediately question things way bigger than I even should. I think we missed it when planning this event, I think our programming needs a major overhaul, or I even think that this small situation is just pointing at my overall failures. Sometimes these questions even surface for me when our attendance is down, which seems to be every time Peyton Manning and the Broncos play during our weekend services. As youth pastors and leaders we need to get to a point where we are okay with some challenges or failures in ministry; it takes years of consistency, not one event, to spiritually influence most student’s lives.

Maybe it’s just me, but all too often I allow a small ministry situation to speak lies to me, and give in to temptations to think I’m not doing anything right. Have you ever done that? A poor conversation or a minor setback in a student relationship and you jump into a deep self evaluation, or even maybe you even start questioning your calling into youth ministry.

As I shared my frustrations over our wrecked Christmas party with a mentor, he reminded me of a few things that completely changed the direction I was heading. He said something like this, “You can’t allow one minor challenge to change the outlook of what God is doing in the lives of these students. We are not perfect, student ministry is hard and messy, and there are days that are discouraging. But those days do not determine that God isn’t working in them. After all, our program isn’t what changes their lives; it is our team’s relationships with them in Christ. Those relationships are even stronger after that salvaged train wreck.”

I am very grateful for the mentors in my life who have reminded me that ministry is not a chart going up and to the right, but instead a rollercoaster of successes, emotions, and prayers. Perhaps today you are feeling disappointed in a programmed event, or even challenged by a situation that has caused you to question so much more than that small circumstance. Take time to be with students and be reminded that those relationships will always be more valuable than any setback with program. And when the discouragement comes, instead of jumping to failure and self-questioning, jump to the big picture of what God is doing in and through you as you are consistently involved in the lives of students and leaders.

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