A friend asked me what I thought about this article- Youth Pastor Panel: The Joys & Pains of Spiritual Growth. Here is my response: I think that self-care is an extremely important issue for people in ministry. Our job in ministry is to walk with people in their spiritual journeys and guide them along God’s path. So, I appreciate that this article realizes that in order to do this, the minister must first care for their own walk with God. I decided to review this article by participating in answering the questions it asks the panel of youth pastors rather than critiquing the article.
Have you ever felt like you hit a plateau in your walk with the Lord or in your ability to lead?
I get what this question is asking, but this is not how I look at the spiritual life. I infer from this question that the spiritual life or ability to lead can be plotted on a graph. On that graph are plateaus and valleys which we assign a negative value, while when we plot the spikes or mountains we assign them a positive value. I am not sure that’s how the spiritual life, our walk with the Lord, is in reality. I think Mike Yaconelli was on to something when he wrote, “What if we removed value judgements from the graph?” He goes on to write that he would label these valleys as stuck while the peaks would be unstuck. He remarks that every instant of being unstuck is preceded and followed by being stuck. Maybe stuck is better than unstuck and stopping is better than going.
I don’t want to avoid the question, though, so I’ll answer it in language I’m comfortable with. I feel disconnected from God a lot. In those times I hold firmly to what God has revealed in His son Jesus. I hold on to knowing that it’s not my spiritual feeling that gives me ability to lead, it’s God’s grace. I hold on to the fact that I have been claimed by God in baptism which united me with Jesus in his death and resurrection. I hold on to knowing that Jesus gives himself to me weekly in the Eucharist to remind me that though I feel disconnected God holds on to me.
If I were to be completely honest, my life not so much following God but a fighting with God. My relationship with God is not one where we walk side by side, but one where God haunts me in everything I do. Even when I try to run, God is there (Psalm 139 kind of stuff).
I want to, and often do, go my own way all the time. What keeps me coming back and leading others is this inescapable grace.
So to use the language of the question, I think the goal of the spiritual life is the plateau. Walking on level ground does not mean my faith is stagnate. It is the place from which God reaches down to me when I am in the valley and reminds me that I am made in God’s image and loved by God. But also, God reaches up to the mountains to bring me down to the plateau reminding me that it is not my good works that pleases Him. Just the walking.
Can you give some examples of how you were able to overcome that or grow out of it?
I answered this a bit in question one. I will add this–as I get older, I become more sure that we never grow out of it. I had idealistic dreams in my young 20’s that I would get older, sin less, and trust God more. But, this hasn’t happened. I am only more sure that God loves me while I am still a sinner and Jesus died for humanity while we were screwing up, not when we were trying to get pretty. Also, I am not sure it is the point of the spiritual life to get out of it. Often we do our “best” ministry from our brokeness, not our wholeness.
What can you recommend for youth pastors to do to continually grow in their walk with God and leadership in ministry?
I would recommend the ancient spiritual disciplines including reading the scriptures, praying, being in community, meditating, being silent for long periods of time, and regularly participating in communion. I don’t think these make you continually grow in your walk, but they help you realize that you are a sinner depending solely on God’s love and grace.