“I can’t wait to get out of Jr. High Ministry and be the pastor of the college ministry.”
This was my attitude even before I began working my first job as a Jr. High Pastor. I never saw myself in youth ministry before because I felt like I couldn’t really relate to that younger crowd, especially Jr. High students. Even more than that, however, I was just disinterested. In all my years at church, I never volunteered to help out with Jr. High or High school ministries.
But for most young pastors in their early twenties starting their vocational ministry, youth ministry is the typical “entry level” position. I was no exception. In order to climb the corporate church ladder and gain enough experience and respect to do what I really wanted to do, I had to serve my time with the middle-school students.
Great attitude, eh? Fortunately, God changed my heart – I’m now a strong believer in not just the importance but beauty of Jr. High ministry (and youth ministry in general!). It is such a critical age that can really impact the rest of their lives.
I was a Jr. High Pastor for almost six years and during those years I got to build relationships with amazing students. I walked with them through the hardships of their lives, and also got to see the beauty of life change at retreats, mission trips, Bible studies. Now, some of them are post college graduates, which makes me feel extra old, but also blessed and privileged to have been part of their lives from their pre-pubescent days until now.
Getting to this point, however, God had to give me a spiritual slap in the face (actually more like several slaps) to show me that I cared more about a POSITION in the church rather than having a PASSION for the church. While I started off with the young and fresh passion to serve God, it was serving God on my own terms and in the way I thought would benefit me the most. But part of the beauty of God’s guidance is that He doesn’t allow us to just get what we want, but really tests and challenges our hearts so we can grow.
I had to repent (several times) and stop caring more about a position in the church rather than being passionate for the church. I had to check myself when I found my thoughts more consumed with plans of how and when I would move up the church ladder to do “real” ministry with adults, rather than focusing on shepherding the congregation members that God had entrusted me at the time. I had to reorient my heart to care for God’s people, God’s word, and God’s kingdom in my current ministry, rather than in a future context.
I believe this mentality is something that can be a temptation for many young pastors who may not even be aware of those thoughts. So here are some questions that helped me wrestle with my wrong focus in order to realign my heart with God’s heart for His church. I hope that they help you to be more passion driven rather than position driven.
Disclaimer: This is for pastors who are in a good and healthy church setting and not a challenge to stay in an unhealthy church setting that is destroying you, your family and church.
1) How often do you think about your next ministry or church rather than focusing on your current ministry?
If it’s at least once a week then your heart is probably driven more by position than passion. You may need to reassess your heart and have some conversations with God, your family, friends and church staff. It will be good to explore the deeper truths and struggles for why you are thinking about this so much. The reason may be that God is calling you out for good reasons, but it could also be that you are stuck on thinking more about yourself and your own personal goals rather than God’s! If this is the case, it’ll be good to get counsel and wisdom from others!
2) How often do you engage and pray for the lost and broken in your called position at church?
Does your heart break for people who are living without the love of God? Are you so filled with the love and joy of your relationship with God, that it saddens you that there are people who do not have that same peace? If we aren’t praying for the hurting and discouraged and lost, then our hearts are probably distracted or clouded by way too many other unimportant things.
3) Do you get excited about your current ministry or just see it as work
There were times when I would walk into church for some of our biggest events such as camps, retreats and mission trips and I would not be excited. Rather, I would just see it as work. That was a huge red flag for me. My desire to “move up” to another ministry was not allowing me to see the joy present in my current ministry. As God changed my heart to love these students, I found myself eager to do the work and planning for those events because I saw the significance and importance that they brought.
4) What kind of stories do you share about your ministry with your friends? Stories that highlight the God stuff or the negative stuff?
Your close friends might ask you about how your ministry is going, and the stories that you share can be an indicator about whether you are driven by passion or position. Of course, it is important to have people you can vent to and express any frustrations that you are experiencing. But overall, are the things you share mostly complaints? Do you have stories of God transforming lives that you are excited to share? The stories on our mind can really be a window into our hearts.
5) Would you still be doing church work even if you did not get paid?
This is not a practical question – of course, you need to be able to provide for yourself and your family. But it is a good hypothetical question to ask to test your heart. Do you love what you do? Are you passionate about what you are doing right now? This can help you search your heart to see whether your passion for God’s work trumps any position, salary, and title you may have in the church.