Serving in ministry is a mixture of ups and downs—just like life. There are hilltop moments when students are responding to Christ, parents are happy, and the staff seems to be getting along…and there are valleys where criticisms spring up on what feels like a never-ending loop, students struggle, and you feel undervalued and on the verge of burnout.
In the past 12 years of ministry life, we’ve experienced both extremes—and everything in the middle—and have wrestled with a “grass is greener” mentality many times. The urge to run is a normal human response to adversity, especially when you feel like you’re giving your best and it’s never enough.
There are times when the wisest, healthiest thing to do is to step away from a particular ministry or job, but there is also great health and peace to be found when you stay put and stick it out. You gain a deeper sense of who you are, who God is, and the deep joy of contentment despite trying circumstances—circumstances that often change. Sometimes, the only way you can see the absolute wonder of what’s right in front of you is by sitting there and staring at it for a while, getting to know all its curves and edges like an old friend.
So how can you “stick it out” in a healthy way? Here are a few mindset changes we’ve found helpful:
- Get a bird’s eye view. In the aftermath of a frustrating review or meeting, it’s easy to start going over that resignation letter you’ve “written” a million times in your head. But instead dwelling on all the ways that you’re right and the church is wrong, take a deep breath and try to look at the bigger picture. What else has gone on in the last week or month? Could the people at that meeting be dealing with other church problems and taking things out on you? Might they be having personal issues at home? Could they be saying something that you perceive as harsh, but they perceive as helpful? Try to imagine as many different perspectives about the exchange as possible and take some time to process your own emotions. Given space and days, most misunderstandings can be worked out sans a giant disagreement or the need to leave.
- Listen to your spouse. As much as ministry can be frustrating for youth workers, it can also be really hard on spouses. If your spouse starts telling you they’re upset with the church or they want you to start looking for another job, listen to them! This doesn’t mean you immediately hit the job sites, but you should both definitely sit down and process what’s going on together. Prayer is very helpful when dealing with hurt feelings. It’s simple and yet utterly effective. Talk about ways that you can work on forgiveness together if there has been a true wrong committed against either one of you by the church. Encourage each other to push through this difficult season. And by all means, ask the Lord if it might be time to move on. Wisdom is the key component here, because even though no church will be perfect, there are situations that warrant a healthy, prayerful change.
- Consider what you could learn by staying. Sometimes in our desire to avoid conflict and find the perfect ministry, we forget that conflict and trying seasons are what help us grow and mature. Staying can be a blessing in disguise. We have found it helpful to try and ponder what God might be teaching us in the midst of frustrating ministry moments. This mindset is difficult to adapt, especially when you can imagine how much better it might be elsewhere. But what we’ve found is that by staying, God has opened our eyes to how amazing the “now” is. Staying can bring a peace like no other, and a happiness that transcends the inevitable ebbs and flows of ministry life.
Thanks for staying,
Jake and Melissa