Most of the time, it takes me a few days to process a conference to find the one or two big ideas that God wanted to tell me. Lately, though, He has been more clear (or maybe I’ve been more in tune), and DYM 200 was no exception. There was a distinct message I believe He wanted me to hear, and it was very simple: “Stop trying to do my job!”
If you’re unfamiliar with the DYM 100/200 events, let me take a moment to put forth a feeble attempt at explaining what has become one of the highlights of my year for the last three years… Most of us in youth ministry are constantly putting on events for our students and maybe we’ll go to some big conference to learn something about the next big thing that we have to then go back and try to implement. (Yes, I know that’s not how all of them are, but many are.) Download Youth Ministry wanted to change things up and make it more relational, intimate, and meaningful. So they did just that! The DYM events have essentially been like a refreshing, engaging retreat with good friends in ministry. And because of that, I look forward to going every year they have it.
This year was the first time they invited 200 of us to go, which changed it up a bit. So, while we weren’t able to rent out the local trampoline park for a dodgeball tournament, we still had some great times. With double the attendees, it was much harder to connect with everyone I wanted, but it was still cool to see more people there. One of the biggest elements I noticed this year was the focus on making sure we are spiritually healthy so that we can create healthy environments for our students and potential students. And that brings me back to my main point…
I am not God.
Now for most of you, this comes as no surprise. Of course, I’m not God! Who would think I am? Well, if I’m honest, I do. Okay, I might not say those exact words, but my thoughts and actions within my ministry often come across that way. When it comes to struggling teens, I want to fix all their problems. When it comes to issues within our church, I want to solve them. When it comes to questions of students’ identity, I think I need to figure it all out. But the truth is that God is more than big enough to handle all that, and He wants to do it. Way too often, though, I try to take things on myself and don’t trust Him to be Him.
The funny thing is that I just preached about this to my students this last Sunday. We were talking about change. Specifically, I shared how negative change often leaves us looking for a way to change it back or fix it. Among the Scriptures I shared was that of John 16:33, where Jesus said, “Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (NLT). I told them they need to remember that Jesus has already overcome the source of their problems, and He wants to take their hurts, pains, crises, and issues today too. I encouraged them to trust Jesus to do what He has done and what He says He will do.
Then I show up in California for DYM 200. The opening session from Chap Clark was all about this concept he calls the “Adoptive Church,” where we need to have a new primary goal of creating environments where kids can realize they have a family in the church. The next morning, Alan Fadling walked through some of the main concepts behind an unhurried life and leadership, which involves us remembering that we are blessed. He pointed to Isaiah 30:15 and asked where our fuel is coming from — ourselves or God. Heather Flies told us we need to look back at our own pasts to better connect with students and also to embrace the freedom of being ourselves.
Katie Edwards and Mary Penner shared about their own experiences with incredibly tough situations in ministry, and the big thing they said was that we have to be willing to walk through each unique situation with a student/family. Marv closed by saying, “We will never be more than an apprentice to the Wonderful Counselor.” Mark Oestreicher shared some of his own family’s experience around the LGBTQ world and challenged us to simply help them feel connected and loved. Tom Shefchunas expressed the need for us to create safe places for students to share their struggles, questions, doubts, etc.
Dr. Walt Mueller, with a recently renewed passion, talked about fighting the cultural narrative with the Biblical narrative. Essentially, he said that it all comes down to relationship, as it rises above everything else the world is throwing at teens today. Jim Burns was the next-to-last speaker, who brought us back to our calling, saying it has a sense of helplessness, willingness, and significance. Finally, Crystal Kirgiss reminded us that we are all God’s sons/daughters and together we are His children.
The final session also contained a performance by Cluster of Students, the student band from Saddleback Church, playing/singing “You Will be Found” from the Dear Evan Hansen musical, interspersed with actual quotes from our students. Seriously! The DYM crew got real words of encouragement and thanks from our students, of which were read by the students in the band. They closed out with a time of musical worship that was one of the most powerful I had ever been a part of. To have such a talented group of students leading a bunch of youth workers in praise to our King — I seriously have no more words to explain that moment!!
I don’t know if you can sense a theme but it is still so evident to me. God wants me to do the things that He has asked me to do, and then I need to trust Him to take care of the rest. He is big enough, talented enough, compassionate enough, knowledgable enough, loving enough, and wise enough to take care of anything we give Him. Nonetheless, I’m often trying to take His place and not trust Him fully to hold up His end of the bargain. Maybe I get impatient, or maybe I have a bit of a Messiah Complex myself. Or perhaps I just get confused on our roles in the heat of the moment.
Yes, my role… our roles are incredibly important as youth workers! Don’t get me wrong. God has called us to something that is so much bigger than ourselves. But that’s it, isn’t it. This calling is larger than us. It’s something that we cannot do on our own. We need His help. If we keep trying to do it alone, we will fall flat on our face. And that isn’t meant as a challenge — it’s the truth! We have to start practicing what we preach… I have to start practicing what I preach. This ministry will only flourish if God is in control. It has never been and will never be about me. It cannot be about me. I am not God!
So, maybe you need to hear this too… You are not God.
Jesus has simply told us that it all comes down to to loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). The rest of the stuff that is thrown our way is important, and some of it has very practical implications. They should be addressed, for sure, but most of the time, I know I’m the one trying to figure it all out myself. I’m the one trying to fix it all. I’m the one trying to be the Savior. Meanwhile I feel like God is sitting back and going, “Just go do what I’ve called you to do (love me and love others), and let me take care of the saving, convicting, and correcting. Remember, I created you. So, you do you, Steve; and let Me do Me!”
Thanks to all the amazing veteran youth workers who came to hang out with us and pour into us this week! Seriously, I wish I could share all the individual nuggets of wisdom that led me to this point, but I felt like it was simpler to just get to the main concept God was shouting at me this week. I did, however, want to share a few more of my favorite quotes from this week, and I pray they bless and challenge you as they have me:
- “What if Jesus was actually right about worrying in Matthew 6:25-34?” (Alan Fadling).
- “Your most brilliant brainstorming will never lead to as good a result as discovering God’s dreams for you ministry” (Mark Oestreicher).
- “Ministry doesn’t allow for balance, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up health” (Kurt Johnston).
What does all this mean for your life and ministry? What will you do with this thought? I’d love to hear your comments!
And if DYM has another event come up, you need to make sure you attend it. Not only have I met some of my best mentors and friends in the ministry, it is so good to be in a relaxed environment for a few days learning and having conversations with some of the best, if not the best, youth workers in the world! And in the middle of all this revelation, I forgot to mention how fun their events are! Just imagine a youth group retreat but for a bunch of youth workers, and that’s basically what these last few days have been.
Finally, I want to extend a huge thanks to Doug Fields, Josh Griffin, Allison Hibbard, Fadi Cheikha, McB, and the rest of the DYM team for continuing to not only resource us well but to care for us well. I am truly blessed to be a part of this amazing community of youth workers!