In youth ministry we often settle for small wins (ANY wins) when Jesus said his followers will do “even greater things” than he did (John 14:12).
Can I be honest?
In some ministry settings, if I didn’t celebrate the small wins, I wouldn’t have any wins to celebrate. It’s hard to grow a youth ministry beyond the vision of the church community in which it lives. What do you do when your lead pastor/elders/deacons don’t allow you to lead the way you sense is best?
Can I be honest again?
In some ministry settings, I celebrated the small wins because I’d lost some of my energy/passion/edge. I settled for small wins because life was a lot easier that way. I settled for small wins because I didn’t think I could afford the heartache of hoping for something greater and failing. It’s hard to lead well when you’re evaluated by things that don’t seem to matter as much to you as it does to your supervisor.
Can I ask you an honest question: Is that what God wants from you?
Both of the above scenarios pressure us to stop pursing “greater things” and settle for small wins. But we know that’s not the calling Jesus has placed in our lives. So how do we balance “trusting God’s timing” in one hand and “expecting ‘greater things’” in the other? Here are a few thoughts, in order, of how we’ve tried to navigate this tension:
- Seek Jesus like the early apostles did. Please don’t read this as an obligatory nod to the spiritual. No one wants ministry to be more successful than Jesus, but we must invite Jesus to define “success.” As you think and plan, remember to spend lots of time asking Jesus for his input. Resist the urge to brainstorm—Jesus doesn’t need our strategy, he needs our dependence on him in relationship. Make time and space for Jesus to speak. What “greater thing” might Jesus be up to if we’re willing to pursue him?
- Appropriately annoy church leaders. All authority is in place under God’s authority, so we all must submit humbly and joyfully to whatever authority has been given to us. Have tough, honest conversations; push against unhealthy systems and low expectations; cast vision for “greater things;” but don’t undermine authority by doing your own thing or allow bitterness to erode your soul. How can you honor your leaders while still chasing hard after Jesus?
- Stop doing so much and release your students to thrive. The older I get, the more I realize how risky it was for Jesus to leave the gospel to the 11 disciples and the rest of his followers. Their track record wasn’t great, and they could’ve benefitted from a few more years of their Jesus-internship. Instead, Jesus gave them his Holy Spirit—2000+ years later Jesus is still a big deal. And that same Holy Spirit indwells the life of every student who follows Jesus. How can you release them to live into the “greater things” Jesus has promised?
Frankly, I do think we should celebrate all wins, big or small—some of us are in church contexts where we’re struggling to find anything to celebrate. Is there a way to celebrate “small wins” while still expecting “great things”? Our task as leaders is to hold this tension while modeling a life of chasing Jesus with trust and obedience. God is with you. God sees you. God is for you. Take heart and expect greater things.