Two years ago at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, I attended a general session where Doug Fields spoke on the topic of “Ministry Envy.” I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last week or so about how I used to view things in youth ministry as opposed to how I currently view them. I am a totally different youth worker now than I was back then. And that is a good thing…
When I think through my career thus far in youth ministry, I realize that I have been very envious at times. If I would have let that envy continue, it could have destroyed my future in youth ministry. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, ministry envy is simply being envious of other youth pastors, youth workers, or youth leaders. It is seeing the awesome things that they do (teach, lead games, perform skits, write, preach, relate to students, lead Bible studies, etc…) and wishing that you could be as awesome or as good as they are. It is seeing a youth worker that you view as better than you are and getting upset with and down on yourself.
I’d love to say that I never struggled with this, but that would be a lie. I’d love to say that I only struggled with this with youth leaders that I didn’t know (those I read about or saw at retreats or events), but that would also be a lie. The truth is, I was envious of the way that many of my close friends and co-workers did ministry. I wanted to be like them and do the things that they did. I wanted to be the kind of youth leader that they were/are.
If I could talk to myself then as myself now, the conversation would look something like this…
Me Now: “If you want to be like them, what is that saying about the youth leader that God created you to be? Aren’t you, in essence, saying that how God created and gifted you isn’t good enough?”
Me Then: “You know what Paul from the future? I think you are right! Maybe I shouldn’t waste my time trying to be like them and just focus on the skills and abilities that God gave me to do youth ministry.”
Me Now: “You sir, are a genius!”
Me Then: “Yeah, that’s true! Before you go back to the future, do you have anything else to tell me?”
Me Now: “Yeah, don’t try to tow an empty u-haul trailer early in the morning on February 5th, 2009. If you turn around when it starts snowing like you think you should, you won’t get into an accident that results in your truck being totaled!”
Me Then: “Thank you kind sir!”
So…as you can see from the conversation I just had with myself, I learned to overcome ministry envy. The session that I attended on this topic served as an eye-opener for me. I never knew that I had this problem and I am very glad that I found out earlier rather than later.
Now, don’t get me wrong…It is ok to see what others do and to admire those things…and maybe even steal a few of them (a.k.a. borrow some ideas from them). But it is not ok to do everything in your power to be like them. It is not ok to obsess over how good they are and beat yourself up for not being able to do what they do.
Everyone is geared differently. I am geared to be a different kind of youth leader than my friends, co-workers, and mentors. I can’t be like them in some aspects because God made me to be me. He geared me to do ministry the way that He intended, not the way that I think I should do it.
I’m glad that God created me to be me.