Youth ministry can be a challenge.

Ok, that’s an understatement. Let me try again:

Youth ministry is a crucible through which one’s faith is put to the test in frightening and unimaginable ways. But that’s not to say there isn’t joy there as well.

God has been doing some great things in the lives of the students recently, and I’ve loved watching him work. We’ve seen students step up as leaders, and we’ve watched as kids get excited about growing in their walks with the Lord. On the flip side, however, odd things happen in youth ministry. For example, I was recently asked to keep the students from throwing pizza crusts into the toilet, because, for reasons still unknown, one student had thrown a pizza crust into the toilet one Wednesday night and had left it there to be discovered the following Sunday. There aren’t many dull moments. In fact, such highs and lows are pretty normal, and youth ministry usually inhabits the murky intersection between such experiences.

Thus, when working with youth, it helps to be a strong leader. Those who are energetic and engaging while also being able to boldly assert their authority in calling students to order may be well equipped for leading students. This, however, left me at a disadvantage for a long time because, simply put, I was (and often still am) a pushover. Though I’m slowly learning (by God’s grace) how to be assertive, I tend to try to please people more than to engage in the friction that comes with confrontation. A good example of this came from the last youth group I served. After a long period of me trying to be just another buddy to the students, I came to a night where the students were a little more rambunctious than usual. In an attempt to call their attention back to the lesson, I raised my voice, and was immediately met by the laughter of a preteen girl. This was not what I expected to hear, and it was a sign that I had failed to truly own the role of leader. I had overemphasized identification with the students and had all but abandoned the more challenging authority side of leadership. Simply put, I didn’t know how to handle challenges and opposition, even on a small scale. I needed to learn to stand behind the truth.

In the Gospels, we read about a dude who didn’t seem to have any problems with confrontation. In Luke 3, John the Baptist’s first recorded words are, “You brood of vipers!” (Luke 3:7). Throughout the Gospel accounts, John doesn’t seem to pull any punches. He boldly proclaims the truth wherever he goes, even when his rebukes and calls to repentance are met with imprisonment and death.

As I’ve noted before, John the Baptist understood his role in God’s grand narrative. In one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture, John humbly proclaims the superiority of Jesus over all: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And because he understood his role in God’s kingdom, he was willing to be bold. His fear of the Lord superseded any potential fear of men. John had internalized what Paul would later write to the church in Rome: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). The key seems to be this: a right understanding of who we are in Christ enables us to be bold in the face of any trial, challenge, or opposition. As Jesus assured his disciples,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

So what does this mean for us? It means, I think, that we need not fear adversity in any form it may take, so long as we are following our Lord. Whether you face pizza crusts in toilets or terrorist attacks, God is in control, and he is worth following. Whether you are surrounded by a community that loves and agrees or a community that hates and opposes, God is in control, and he is worth following. When the struggles of opposition or pain or slander or avoidance or loneliness or dismissal or whatever else may seek to distract us from our first love, we can trust in God’s love and sovereignty and stand boldly in his name for his glory, trusting him with the circumstances around us. God is in control, and he is worth following.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18


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