Doing ministry requires thick, elephant like skin. It’s true. It takes about two weeks in ministry to learn about this requirement. Without thick skin, you probably are not going to make it in ministry. Seriously. If a snide comment or offhand remark can destroy your day, perhaps God called you to a ministry where you don’t interact with hurting and growing people every day of your life.
Thick skin is especially important if you are in student ministry. This is true because it is easy to forget that students are still maturing and who knows what might come out of their mouth at any moment. Even in my short time in ministry I have heard things that could have ripped my heart out if not kept in context. I had a student ask why we never do anything fun in our ministry. Context: we had fun events but the student had chosen not to sign up for any. I recently had a student tell a group of people in the church that our programming was lame. Context: it was not lame until the girl that he hung out with moved out of town. I had a student who asked why we don’t do anything deep. Context: this student becomes ridiculously distracting if forced to sit quiet and still for more than three minutes at a time.
Each one of these comments could have sent me into a tailspin. Each one could have sent our program back to the drawing board trying to make things fun or serious or not lame. We could have changed everything to make this person or that person happy. We didn’t do that. We remembered that these students are still figuring things out. They have a narrow view of the world because they are still learning how to see the world. Because I have spent significant time praying and working towards a vision for the program, I feel secure in what we are doing.
There are other reasons that you need to have thick skin. Inevitably, you will encounter the student who leaves because they like something else better. Maybe they like the band somewhere else. Maybe they have more friends somewhere else. Maybe there are more single girls somewhere else. Are these good reasons to leave your church community? Probably not. Would you have done the same thing as a teenager? Probably.
One other reason to have thick skin is that in ministry you are helping people become mature in Christ. This means that the people that you are working with are learning and growing, but they are not holy simply because they come into your building or to your programs. The people who you minister to are not supposed to treat you like a friend and you are not supposed to treat them like your friend. The relationship is bigger than that. As a minister you are their guide, their prophet, and their shepherd. These roles do not allow you to leave them behind because they don’t follow or because they disagree the words that you speak into their life.
How do you grow thick skin? You find security in who you are and in what God has called you to. You need to be confident in who you are. If you are intimidated by students or your church members, you have already minimized the impact that you can make. Be confident in who you are, your gifts and talents. Also, be confident in your calling. God selected you over all kinds of other people to share His story with these students and parishioners. If God called you to the task, he has prepared you as well. So stop being lame and toughen up.