Dark Clouds: Dealing with discouragement

Dealing with discouragementMy life in youth ministry is busy but pretty good at present, but when times are good its easy to forget the times when ministry is filled with discouragement.

Discouragement may be the most influential feeling that encourages good workers to leave youth ministry before they should.  In his book “Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry” Doug Fields talks about the three feelings that discourage us on our spiritual journey:

  • I’m not worthy
  • I feel guilty
  • I feel alone

It can come in many forms; lack of respect, lack of communication (or too much!), pizza trodden into the church carpet again, criticism, difficult young people, the perception that youth ministry is not as high a priority as other ministries in the church, failure to please everyone, failure to please anyone, etc etc etc.  There have been times when I have caught myself thinking “Jesus, if you really love me, why is that kid in the youth group?”

I don’t know where you are at with the idea of “spiritual warfare” however I have noticed that discouragement often immediately follows moments of real success in my ministry.  It sometimes feels that it has been deliberately designed to knock me back down to earth, and I can’t believe that this how our loving Father God operates.

Discouragment can play a big part in our youth ministry if we let it!  Those of us in youth ministry have a habit of wearing our hearts on our sleeves, dare I say it even at times slightly petulant?  But how can we deal with it?  Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Realise that you are not alone – Discouragement can be a very dark and lonely place, but the sooner we realise that we are not alone, the better.  Find yourself a local network of colleagues doing the same job in different contexts (Anglican Diocese’s usually have excellent networks and don’t mind having folk from other church traditions along, alternatively check with Soul Survivor to see if they have an active network local to you).
  2. Find yourself a mentor  – Finding someone outside your working context who you trust to offer you an honest, impartial perspective on what you are facing and to help you figure out how to cope can be a real blessing.
  3. Keep all your encouraging correspondance – An encouragement file can be just that.  At times when we are discouraged and you feel that you can’t do anything right, open it up and remember that you are loved, you are valued and you are capable of all that God has called you to do for Him.
  4. Spend some time alone on retreat – Retreat can be a great way of refocusing on God and allowing Him to refocus us on our calling and the task he calls us to.  Find a place locally where you can go and allow God to wash over you for a period.  Finding time to achieve this is not always easy (trust me I know!), however making it a priority is really important and needs to be done in consultation with those around you to save you from feeling guilty for going away.
  5. Bless and pray for the persecuters – This is probably the hardest one of these suggestions to achieve and also the one I struggle with most.  The danger with discouragement is that we carry it around as a burden, but praying for those who act in this way does two things, it helps us to give that burden over to God, and it helps us to forgive.

Discouragement will ruin your ministry – if you let it.  I pray that whether your calling is voluntary or employed, you know Gods continued love and appreciation for all that you do, that you continue to follow His path on the journey and that you find others with whom you can share the road.

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