Being a minister is temporary. Now, I am not talking about the fact that ministers change churches frequently or leave the ministry. Our roles are temporary for two reasons. First, the places that we serve were there before us (unless of course you planted it) and they will be there after us (unless of course you killed it). Second, the people you minister to will change. They move away or change churches. Whether we like it or not, our roles in the lives of the congregations and the people we minster to are temporary.
What does this mean for our ministry? Does it affect the way we do our jobs? I hope that it does. I keep a picture of my church’s youth group from the 1980s in my office as a reminder that I am part of something that is bigger than my time here. It helps me to remember three things.
First, I need to minister with a sense of urgency. I am all about building relationships and gaining trust, but I have to be reminded that I don’t have forever to bring up spiritual stuff with students. I have to be careful that I continue to be a minister rather than a friend. Praying for boldness helps here. Not only does urgency help me with minister to the students, I also focus more on strengthening the program. I want to make things happen as fast as God will allow, and that means positioning the program for success.
The second thing that being temporary helps me to understand is that this student ministry needs to be sustainable. I could build a program around my gifts and energy, but the truth is that there are no guarantees that I will be here forever. My desire is to create a program that is not dependent upon one person or even one resource. This means establishing a culture where leaders are those in the church, not just on the staff. It also means simplifying certain aspects of ministry. For more information about this topic, I recommend Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark Devries.
The third thing that I remember when understanding that my role is temporary is that I need to have thick skin. A friend of mine in college ministry recently changed his area of ministry because it was simply too difficult to see students come and then leave after four years. His heart was broken every May and he had started to dread August because the cycle started over again. This week we will say goodbye to a student who has only recently joined us but has made a huge impact on our group. For five months we have poured into her life and watched God do some great things. As her family relocates for a new job, it breaks my heart, but I also know that I have done what I was called to do–minister to whoever God sends my way, even if it is for a little while. Even playing a small role in someone’s life is an honor.
Understanding that you are temporary is so important in ministry. Not only does it keep you balanced, but it keeps you on your toes. As you watch students head to college or as you think about the people you have served in the past, I hope that you always rejoice that God has used you and will continue to do so.