Published: The Performance Trap

Last week I wrote about often feeling inadequate in the ministry, and it raised a few questions and comments. However, it also dove-tailed with a post I had published on The Gospel Coalition Australia later in the week, entitled “The Performance Trap“.

In this post I write about the amazing grace God gives to us, not because of anything we’ve done, but simply as a gift. Even though we may know this intellectually, often we fall back into performance-based living.

You can read the whole thing here.

“Intellectually we get it. We understand the heart of Christianity really isn’t about us, it’s about God and what he has done. Yet functionally we keep trying to make it about us. We are drawn back to performance in our attempt to live out our faith. In the end, we fall into performance traps; distorting the gospel and making our faith about us once again. “

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The Inadequate Youth Pastor

As I stand in the front row of our church, waiting for the song to finish before I get up to preach, my heart is beating faster than usual. My mind is sending up invisible prayers like a professional boxer hitting the speedball. While on the outside I might look calm, inside is nothing of the sort. Nerves are one thing, but it’s actually the intense feelings of inadequacy that come before the preaching begins. Afterward, those feelings return as I stand praying during the final song, simply wanting to hide. Sometimes I acknowledge the feelings and embrace them, other times I am overwhelmed by them.

These feelings of inadequacy are not restricted to the task of preaching. It applies to other areas of church life, including youth ministry and working with young adults. Whether it is meeting with someone one-on-one, leading leaders in planning our youth ministry and its culture, seeking to give wise advice to questions our high schoolers ask, or leading the week Bible study, I often walk away with a strong feeling that I’m inadequate for the role.

The Inadequate YP

Some smart person will tell me that I’m placing more emphasis on myself than on God at this point. That I’m not putting faith in God’s work through his Word, but rather seeking affirmation and positive feeling from my own performance. And while I imagine I am doing this to some extent, who doesn’t want to at least feel like they’re doing somewhat of a decent job at something they are called to? But considering the preparation, the prayer, and the ‘performance’ itself, the intensity of these inadequate feelings just doesn’t match.

It is often said that we put more pressure on ourselves than we do others. And we expect we will be able to do good, high quality work, from the outset. No matter what role we have–youth leader, parent, student, worker–we all have feelings of inadequacy. But no matter how much positive feedback I might receive this week, no matter how much experience I recognise I have, no matter how much study or reading I do, and no matter how much encouragement I see within the ministry itself, I often feel inadequate in what I do.

I suspect I’m not the only one in youth ministry feeling this way.

At this point it would be worth heading toward a positive, uplifting, and assuring verse of Scripture to tell me, and all of us, that we’re not inadequate at all. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m reminded of Moses in Exodus 3-4 as he lays out to God objection after objection on why he should not be the leader of God’s people, confront Pharaoh, and help them leave the bonds of slavery in Egypt. I can completely understand Moses when he says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13).

Evidently my pride and ego get in the way. There is no doubt. And now that I’m in my late-30’s, rather than my early-20’s, a little of the brashness and arrogance has been shaved away. But, those feelings of inadequacy still linger; like the old ladies perfume I was skunked by when receiving an awkward hug at morning tea after church.

Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with these feelings of inadequacy. I can’t say I’ve found helpful answers from others in ministry yet. It seems everyone is battling with the same problem! But then again perhaps all one needs is a good rest and some down time.

Youth Minister ‘But Now’ Series

Each day last week I had a blog post series published at Rooted Ministry. Each post focussed on particular slabs of Scripture that used the phrase ‘but now’. The entire series was narrowing in on the theme of identity in the life and times of a youth ministry practitioner (and others). The round up of each of these posts is outlined below.

Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Included

Over at Rooted Ministry the fifth and final article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. The third post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community. The fourth post highlights our identity in relation to being reconciled to God. And the fifth post is a reminder that we are now included in God’s family.

You can read the whole thing here.

“I am reminded often, when working with teenagers, that there is a tendency in our younger years to withhold mercy toward one another. This, of course, isn’t solely a student problem. This is a humanity problem. But the withholding of mercy toward others, especially school friends and those who we deem “different,” seems particularly evident in teenagers.

In our ministry to students, one aspect of the gospel to emphasise is the fact that the mercy we have received from God through Christ changes our identity to mercy-givers. Following in the example of God, we too are called to offer mercy to others. History’s greatest act of mercy is the mercy offered by Jesus on the cross. And in our lives and the lives of our students, it is he whom we seek to imitate.”

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Reconciled

Over at Rooted Ministry the fourth article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. The third post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community. Today’s post highlights our identity in relation to being reconciled to God.

You can read the whole thing here.

“In youth ministry we call upon our students and their families to recognize this gift of grace God has given us through Jesus. It is great that we can have a fun time, enjoy each other’s company, learn more about God, and find a place to belong as a community. But we also need to put front and center the truth that there is a need to reconcile with God. When we call our students to God, we call them to come and receive all these benefits. The gospel is a gospel of hope that delivers us from separation and alienation and reconciles us with the God of the universe, the lover of our souls. What was broken has now been finally and forever repaired.”

You can read other published pieces here.

 

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Brought Near

Over at Rooted Ministry the third article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. And today’s post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community.

You can read the whole thing here.

“But here’s the rub: Because God is with us, and because we are with God, there is no competition. There is no separation. There is no division. There is no apart-ness. No, we are with God and he is with us. We have been drawn near.

While we, and the students we lead, live in this lonely separated world we know there is something greater. Real relationship with others, being loved for who we are, and being accepted on the basis of grace is a call to community. In our churches we want to be known by people who are similarly known by God. And when we have students who are lonely, yearning for someone to simply listen, then we become an integral part in helping them be known. This is why our work is so important; it’s connecting people to God and to one-another. The greatest gift for our students is Jesus, the greatest community we can provide them with is one that shows love, respect, and acceptance in his name.”

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Set Free

Over at Rooted Ministry the second article of a 5-part series I’m having published this week has gone live.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. Today’s post focuses on the freedom we have because of the cross. You can read it here.

“As we minister to teenagers, as we parent our children, we often find ourselves drawn back to living pre-Calvary. We are more comfortable operating out of a place of rules, law, and instruction. And while we teach our students and children this freedom message, we often place upon them the same law we find ourselves so drawn to.

Living gospel lives means we speak this teaching and instruction from a new foundation, a foundation of grace and freedom that seeks to highlight this gift God has given through his Son. With gospel living comes rest; performance to achieve for God is turned into being with God. With gospel living comes security; we are held fast by a loving Father, free in the assurance of his promises. With gospel living comes comfort; in times of pain and trial we lean into his sovereign hand in all things, knowing that God is truly in control. With the freedom that comes from the gospel we are able to live lives from a place of joy, gratitude, and thankfulness.”

For today’s full article, go here.

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Are Made Right

Over at Rooted Ministry I have a 5-part series coming out this week, all focussed on the theme of identity for the youth pastor and centred on the phrase ‘but now’. The first of these five have been published today.

“Our identity, as well as our worship and obedience, is found at the cross. Nothing else matters, nothing else suffices. Yet in the chaos of our jobs and calling, how often do we forget this? Like clouds above, slow and silent, we find ourselves drifting from this truth among the busyness, the self-importance, and the variety of youth ministry. We lose ourselves in the thrust and hustle. We seek to serve God and those in our congregations, yet we find ourselves wondering who we are amongst it all.

‘But now’ reveals our true identity to us in a way that feels like we’ve just walked into a glass door. Once we were a people who performed in order to be worthy, now we are a people who achieve through the free grace we receive. These two words set us back on the path to rest and rightness.”

The full post can be found here.

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Steven PD Smith: The Australian Jesus

For those of us who take a glimmer of interest in Australian cricket, this week has been a memorable one. The Australian cricket team, so often a symbol of our nation, has begun the five-match series against our arch-rivals, England, competing for the holy grail­–The Ashes.

And there is something about test match cricket that enables allusion to the Christian faith. The hope our nation puts into the team’s success, the perseverance required for a five-day match, and the ebb and flow, the highs and lows, of what takes place out on the field. Each of these things are aspects of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus–hope and endurance, joy and suffering.

Copy of A Sent People - Part 5_ Being Part of the Answer

But in this past week we have seen the return of king, the resurrection of the spiritual leader of the team, the one in whom our nation trusts.

For a number of years, cricket fans especially, have been in awe of the ability of Steven PD Smith as a batsman. He has led time and time again as a player and as a captain.

But some 18 months ago it all came crashing down. Like Good Friday for us believers, something seemingly bad occurred. Under Smith’s leadership there was cheating, #sandpapergate as it became known, and caused uproar for the Australian public that ricocheted around the cricket world. Down came the leader, whipped and beaten by the relentless pressure, by stupid decisions, and soon enough expelled from the captaincy and the team. Australian cricket’s Good Friday event unfolded, leaving the team, the disciples, in a confused and disappointed mess.

And so, for a year and a half Australian test cricket has been trying to deal with its Easter Saturday. A day of awkwardness, a day of wondering. It is a day with a certain uneasiness about what has just happened and deliberating what’s going to take place going forward. Here we sit, trying to comprehend the awful nature of what has occurred and seeking strategies to cope in order to move forward. Where has the hope gone? What has happened to our saviour? Do we continue on in the same fashion or do we scatter?

But this week we have seen the one who restores and rescues us as Australian cricket fans.

Through two magnificent innings of 140-odd runs we witnessed the resurrection. Our redeemer has returned and all will be forgiven.

Easter Sunday has arrived, and we couldn’t help but be pulled into the hope and joy that comes from such a performance. Whether listening on the radio or watching on TV, we became drawn into the unfolding drama. In the Bible we read of how the disciples were initially shocked to hear that Jesus had risen, and so they ran to the tomb themselves into order to believe. We too became a nation who had to see for ourselves such greatness and glory.

For now, hope has been restored. The joy of watching cricket has returned. The disciples have been re-ignited for the mission. And so we wait, we watch, we have faith and want to follow the king.

When all thought was lost, we see what has been found. We have hope and look to the saviour, seeking sporting salvation. As the coming weeks progress we as a cricketing nation once again put our hope in the Australian Jesus, Steven PD Smith.