Have you ever seen footage on the National Geographic or Discovery Channel of salmon swimming upstream? It’s pretty interesting to watch. I always feel bad for the fish that makes a good amount of progress just to be caught in the current and pushed back to where they started.
Sometimes I feel like working in youth ministry is a lot like trying to swim upstream. At times I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress, fighting against the currents of sin, self-centeredness, culture, low expectations, etc. in students’ lives, but suddenly a swift downstream current will push us back to where we started and I’m left feeling like all the hours of prayer, studying, working on programming/events, and relationship building were wasted. It’s in those moments I question my calling, my effectiveness, even myself.
I know if I’ve struggled with this then I’m not the only one. My guess is that many youth ministers feel this way and struggle with constantly fighting against the currents, trying to make a difference in teenagers’ lives.
When I get frustrated with the lack of progress or the amount of regress in my ministry to students, there’s one thing that I have trained myself to remember:
What I’m doing is about obedience, not results.
The most important thing I do in YM is obey what I feel God has called me to do and then do it in a way that honors him. I may work for hours preparing content for youth group—prepping a game, choosing songs for worship, teaching them to our student band, rehearsing with them until they get it, studying for and preparing a message I hope will inspire youth to take their walk with Jesus to the next level, and creating an environment that will be comfortable and inviting for them—only to have a handful of students show up and spend an hour texting their friends, using the couches for a much-needed nap, or just stare at that patch of wall they’ve been studying for the last six weeks.
I HAVE to remember in those moments that the results may not be what I expected—but I was obedient to the task God set before me. If I focused only on the progress I was making upstream I would often be frustrated, disappointed, or even feel like quitting.
How do the salmon do it? There’s got to be something inside them that just keeps saying, “Swim, Swim, SWIM!”
What we have as those who are called to minister to youth isn’t much different. The Holy Spirit inside of us is urging us on, “Swim, Swim, SWIM!” Irregardless of what the results are, I want to be obedient to what God has called me to do. He will bring the results in His time. He will get me up the stream in His way and according to His will. I, and those on the YM journey with me, just have to keep swimming.