Ministry can be discouraging and isolating at times—and that’s without pandemic quarantines in effect! Sometimes the weight we're under can't be shared with even our closest friends because they're also part of our churches; sometimes the tensions we’re dealing with involve mutual friends or church leaders. There have been times I didn't feel understood by anyone, and student ministry felt like a lonely solo gig.
Until I showed up at my first network meeting of local EFCA youth workers.
I am equipped to return to the battle with the reminder of where my strength comes from.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.”
The youth workers in my network have become not only friends and teammates—they have become my allies, dispelling the isolation of my ministry. I have gained incredible value from this group of youth workers: a strengthened soul, a resourced ministry and a joyful unity.
A strengthened soul
In this safe group of fellow workers, I can share about struggles in the church and struggles in my heart. Brothers and sisters have prayed over me with words I hadn't been able to form myself. They've pointed me back to Jesus as the Head of the Church.
Their stories are different than mine, and yet akin: we all serve people broken by the fall. I've been freed from the tangles of discontentment, as I learned that the grass isn't greener in a church that's bigger or in a better location or with a different senior leadership team.
I am reminded of the One who called me and spurred on to remain faithful, waiting for Him to do the work of building His church. I am equipped to return to the battle with the reminder of where my strength comes from.
One particular Thursday morning I arrived hurting and discouraged. I was grieving through significant losses, processing a leadership failure close to me and dealing with tensions with close friends. I shared the complex story only briefly, but the words my friend Chris prayed over me felt like they were given by the Holy Spirit, seeing my heart. Another friend shared part of the pain in her similar story of staying put at a church during a challenging season and the fruit that it bore many years later. It was healing—and oh-so-encouraging —to feel less alone. I returned with plenty of challenges but with my hope re-anchored to the Redeemer.
A resourced ministry
Having a group of ministry-minded friends that gather consistently has also paid off in practical ways. We share best practices for equipping parents, training leaders and counseling students through crises. We compile lists of group games that work over Zoom and swapped message outlines from past teaching series. My default perspective is challenged, and, in turn, I have grown in wisdom.
Over the years, I have borrowed a projector for an outdoor event, joined up with some nearby churches for a dodgeball tournament and brought my group to a prayer night organized by a sister-church. Those events have given my small group of students a chance to feel like they are a part of something bigger and to meet new friends.
[I]t's been freeing and encouraging to view us as different branches of the same Church...
The network group has been a natural place to ask questions, get ideas and share resources, making my ministry stronger and my workload lighter.
A joyful unity
For as much as Jesus talked about the unity of His followers as a key witness to the watching world, American churches lack unity with others. So many of our ministries have been silos, working alone and viewing other churches as competition or as inferior. One of the great benefits of meeting with other youth workers is developing a sense of true unity: one team, working separately, toward the same goal of reaching and equipping the next generation.
These youth workers feel like colleagues, teammates and friends. Last year when a parent told me they were pulling their daughter out of our student ministry and going to a nearby EFCA church, I was able to genuinely say, “We'll miss her, but I know both Greg and Cindy at that church, and your daughter will be in great hands.” I think the parent was both relieved and surprised to hear that response!
For me, though, it's been freeing and encouraging to view us as different branches of the same Church, as coworkers with the same mission in our different settings.
It's a small step toward the kind of unity that points a watching world to the One Savior. Paul exhorted the Philippian church to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27), telling them that their unified ministry would be a sign to the unbelievers around them. Connecting with fellow laborers in the gospel at other churches has given me an expanded vision for the church and a deeper passion for serving the larger body of Christ, not just my congregation. I rejoice in what God is doing in other parts of our city, encourage leaders going through discouraging seasons and pray together for Kingdom growth.
The monthly check-in with others about how my heart, family and ministry are doing is a safeguard against the isolation that can set church leaders up for significant moral failures. Of course, none of us are immune from that possibility, but having people who consistently ask about my life, pray for me in my struggles and celebrate my wins is one level of protection from a habit of harboring secret sins that could sabotage my ministry down the road.
I am grateful that God does not call us to ministry on our own. Through this connection with fellow EFCA youth workers, I've gained fresh ideas, renewed strength and close friends, and both my ministry and my heart are better for it.
If you are interested in learning more about EFCA student ministry networks, contact your district ReachStudents leader or email EFCA ReachStudents Director Justin Wevers at firstname.lastname@example.org.