Blog/CYM Blog


I walked into the retreat almost completely defeated. As I shared with my small group, people’s faces went from empathetic to confused as I shared:

Things this year have been amazing. We see more and more teens every week. We have a great peer group. We built a brand new youth center. The bishop is coming to do an end of the year XLT for us. But, I just feel like a failure.

It was my first retreat I attended for myself as a youth minister, and I was journeying with several other youth ministers. You can imagine their confusion as I shared how broken I felt even as things at my parish were thriving. I mean, isn’t that the youth ministry dream? A thriving parish? Supportive pastor and bishop? Engaged parents?

So why did I feel like a failure? The answer came in the form of a question asked during our first session:

What do you place your hope in?

The entire retreat reflected on the second reading from this past Sunday’s liturgy (Romans 5:1-5). It speaks about a hope that does not disappoint.

But all of my hopes seemed to disappoint me, even when they should’ve been fulfilling me. I hoped for great numbers of teens, conversion, and support and I found it all. I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment, though. I played the game of “Yeah…but…”

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of teens, but aren’t there more teens to reach?

Yeah, we built a brand new youth center, but isn’t there a better youth center to build?

Yeah, our priest is supportive, but what about the rest of our staff?

Do you ever play that game? It is a sure recipe for disappointment and defeat. You can never win with “Yeah, but,” because there will always be something more. When we place our hope in earthly things, we will always be disappointed. It doesn’t even have to be ministry related.

There is always going to be a bigger house, better job, newer car, or more exotic vacations. As long as social media is driven by perfectly curated and chosen Instagram and Facebook posts of family vacations, we are always going to be wanting more. Those things we once hoped for suddenly become meaningless.

This mentality can be easily summed up with the axiom:

I despise that which I have and desire that which I have not.

I lived this mentality perfectly until I began praying Romans 5.

As people in ministry, we forget the truth we preach. Jesus Christ is our greatest hope. Our home is not here, and our hope is in heaven. This is the big hope. It isn’t bad to hope for other things. Much of what I hoped for in ministry was noble. We should want our ministry to be successful in reaching souls. We should want to reach more teens. We should hope and work toward support from our pastors. But, these can’t become our big hopes. Our lives can’t rise and fall on them. What happens if our hopes fail to materialize? Or, worse, what happens when they do, and it isn’t what we hoped for?

The hope we have in Jesus doesn’t disappoint, but too often He is the afterthought to our planning and goal setting. If you don’t begin your goals with the personal goal to get to Heaven, you’ve already failed. If your biggest hope isn’t in Jesus and the eternal life He gives, no other hope will satisfy. You are doomed to a lifetime of disappointment, constantly sloughing off blessings with, “Yeah…but,” until eventually you don’t see blessings at all. You just see disappointment and failure where none exists. That isn’t abundant life. That is a prison.

This week, St. Paul challenges us to reassess where we place our hope. Is it in something that ultimately could disappoint? Or is it eternal, unwavering and secure in Christ?

Hope in Christ and live free of disappointment. Nothing else will satisfy. Everything you need you already have. We simply need to recognize it.


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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.

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