If Only! Comparison in Youth Ministry

I don’t know about you, but the teens at my parish often drove a nicer car than I ever did.

In fact, when I graduated college, my first grown up purchase was a car. It was from the showroom of a local dealership, which helped save some money. To help lower the cost, I bought it “as is”. It had manual locks and manual windows. That’s right folks, from 2008 -2014, I drove a car that had roll-down windows and boy was I proud of it! So if you can, picture me driving teenagers to a retreat or lock-in and ultimately being the center of loving joke after joke because of my car. Even though my reality was that I could not afford much more, I can’t say I never wished or dreamed of something better (or at least with automatic windows!)

Today’s worldview states that “bigger is better”, and often leaves us wishing we had something new, bigger, better. It tells us that we are not enough, or that we should be doing something different. It states that change is good, and things get outdated fast so we should buy the next thing. Even if we know what is true for us personally, our culture wants us to be constantly improving our homes, cars, families, sleep habits, jobs, dinners, etc.

Because of this mentality, we can fall into the mindset of wanting something we don’t have at a particular time; If only I had more money, if only I had more time, if only I had a dedicated space for a youth room, if only I had a bigger core team, if only…

From my ministry experience, it was easy to see how comparing could creep into our thoughts. Not based on what cars teenagers get to drive, but more so between ourselves and other youth ministers. Have you ever been jealous or compared what’s happening at Life Teen in your parish to another one? Maybe it’s about the number of teenagers who attend your Life Nights, or events that a parish program can put on, or a huge core team, and even priest support! Have you thought, man, I’ll never be able to take a group on a mission trip, or struggle with the unfairness that you work three part time jobs, and someone is paid full time for doing youth ministry? I wrestled with that idea. Sure, I didn’t have to work three jobs, and I was paid full-time salary, but somehow I would compare myself to how “I work so hard and s/he works half the time AND gets paid the same”.

What a trap!

The other evil temptation in ministry is to compare yourself to another program or youth minister to make yourself feel good about who you are. Ugly, right? Unfortunately, it happens! We might put someone else down or talk bad about someone else to make ourselves feel better. “Well, I go to Mass every day and s/he doesn’t. I have so many more teens coming to Life Nights. At least I didn’t say that in a talk in front of parents. I work so much harder than him/her. I am a much better youth minister”. If we believe in true servant leadership, we don’t compare ourselves to others to promote ourselves.

Instead, let’s lift each other up! Just because someone does something amazing and we decide to acknowledge him/her or encourage them, does not mean that we are any less. We are in this together and our role to fellow Youth Ministers is to support, encourage and love; never to tear down, disrespect and compare to.

All of those thoughts are an open door inviting Satan to grab a seat in your ministry program. Comparison in ministry is bad, and it can get ugly. When we spend so much of our days thinking about what we don’t have and why we don’t have it, easily our mindset of WHY we are serving the Lord can jump ship.

Why do we focus on what isn’t enough or what we don’t do well enough more than the good that God is pouring into the ministry all the time? Do we know that He is enough and that He has provided for His children what He desires at this time? Do we trust in His plan or think that “if only” I had this one more thing, the ministry will be great?! What is your mindset about what God has given to you for the program lying in front of your eyes today?

For those of you who know a little bit about me, I have three children and my oldest just turned four last week. A few weeks ago my husband said he wished we could just up and go to Mexico for a vacation. Amen! Who doesn’t love that idea? While I wouldn’t change the beautiful chaos that is my daily life, it’s tempting to think about what other people get to do, such as a trip to Cancun at the spur of the moment. However, God has called me at this time of my journey to be with these people, in this situation, and not leaving town on a plane to travel to an all-inclusive. And you know what? That’s OK. God has plans for my life than not necessarily look like that of my neighbor’s life. He has plans for you as a youth minister to be attentive to what He has called you to in this moment, on this day. May we each have a better awareness of God’s unique calls for us.

Anytime that comparison creeps into your ministry, do me a favor and try these ideas out!

  • Use it as a challenge to strengthen your program. When you hear of a great idea from a fellow Youth Minister, don’t put them down or sit back and wish you could do that, ask them for help, ideas, and put a plan into action.
  • Collaborate with youth ministers who are creative. Do a joint retreat, event, or Core training together.
  • Grab lunch with another youth minister. Some of the best relationships I built in youth ministry were with others who were in the same boat where we could openly share struggles and glory stories.
  • Never compare yourself to them to identify your worth, or lessen theirs.

I want to invite you to focus on the good that you are surrounded by in your program. Take time this week and write down twenty (or more) amazing aspects of the Life Teen or Edge program at your parish. Then hang that list up so you can view it, others can see it, and then you are constantly reminded of the good that God is doing at your parish.

May you believe that anything our Lord is proud of you and loves you, and Heaven sees your efforts daily. Wishing you peace in the knowledge that you are doing a great job! Thank you!

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.Philippians 4:8


Image via Flickr, CC 2.0 Logo added

About the Author

Katie Gray

Katie Gray serves as Life Teen's Central Region Director. She spent six years leading Life Teen and Edge at a parish in St. Louis and adores a good dance party with her husband and daughters. Her goals each week include getting closer to Heaven, eating chocolate candy without nuts, and spending less than $100 at Target. You can follow her crazy blessed life at LT_katieG.

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