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The One Advent I Almost Quit Youth Ministry

When I entered youth ministry as a volunteer, I thought it was amazing. In hindsight, I think I realize why I thought that:

  • I had a set group of teenagers that I ministered to every single week
  • I never was around on Monday morning to hear about what was broken the night before
  • My e-mail was never filled with messages from parents, secretaries, the parish priest or any other person that may have a bone to pick
  • I ignored any person I didn’t really like or that I was intimidated by (or that didn’t like me)

I created a pretty impressive youth ministry bubble. It busted open in glorious fashion when I moved parishes and began work as a full-time youth minister. Suddenly, I had an inbox teeming with complaints, concerns, program withdrawals, and questions from parish staff about who killed the plants we needed for the Easter Mass.

I mean, how was I supposed to know you can’t bring potted plants out into the cold? (Note: Apparently, the sudden change in temperature seriously shocks the plants and pretty much kills them instantly. And despite it being Easter, there was no resurrection for those plants.)

Not only that, but I had a responsibility to not only minister to the people that I liked, but I needed to build bridges with the people that I didn’t like, which to be honest, weren’t too many. The bigger issue was building bridges with the people that didn’t like me. There were a lot more of those people.

Round One: Fight

The first response I had to this sudden cohort of anti-Joel people was retaliation and attack. Do you want to go toe-to-toe? We can do that. We can argue. We can exchange passive-aggressive e-mails. We can subtly put each other down at post meetings. After all, we are adults.

This method was highly ineffective. It actually (you won’t believe this) made things worse. It made me resent my job. Suddenly, I was at odds with a lot of people. All of my interactions were defensive. I walked around my parish office, into Life Night, and into Core Team meetings ready for a new battle.

By Advent, I was ready to quit. I actually interviewed with another parish during that time, ready and willing to do anything to escape my current predicament. I am happy I didn’t leave; though my surroundings would’ve changed… my attitude would not have changed. And my attitude was the problem.

Let Love Increase and Abound

In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul offers the remedy that I overlooked when I began at the parish (1 Thes. 3:12 – 4:2). He challenges the Thessalonians to ask for an increase so that their love would abound and grow for all. Not for some, or a few, or the people we like – but for all.

I didn’t need to get along with everyone right away. Sometimes you are going to butt heads with people. Sometimes, people will disagree with you.

Once in a while you will be wrong, and once in a while you will be right – and people may or may not recognize it. Youth ministry – and really life – is never free of conflict or people that we will struggle with.

This is why the prayer of “increase” is so powerful.

Jesus, increase the love I have for my enemy.

Jesus, increase the love I have for the people I don’t get along with.

Jesus, increase the love I have for the people I am afraid to speak with and minister to.

Jesus, increase the love I have for people when they call me out.

We are called to love our enemies and those that persecute us, but we sometimes assume we need to love them perfectly. Perfection takes time and prayer – and we never seem to make time for prayer. We equate “loving” our enemy with simply ignoring them or justifying our actions toward them as righteous rebukes. Maybe, just maybe, we need to ask God to help us love them more. To help us see the world through their eyes. To increase the love of Christ in us, so we can share it with them.

Advent is a great time to start asking for that increase. As days grow shorter and darker while we remember the light that came into our world at Christmas, ask God to increase love in you for all – especially those we struggle with. It takes time, and it may be a daily prayer, but (incredibly) God is faithful in this dangerous prayer. God comes through and gives us more love.

Sometimes, it means new friendships as we see eye to eye. Sometimes it means parting ways amicably. Sometimes, it means being able to bear with the struggle gracefully. However God chooses to use a situation, you can trust that God’s grace will be present because of the attitude and love you bring to it. And doesn’t just make for awesome youth ministry – it makes an abundant life.

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.