The Gospel is Power for Youth Ministry Burnout
Student Pastors are tired creatures, often fiddling with knobs – like attendance numbers, testimonies, sermon-prep, who got prayed for, who raised their hand, or who asked us for advice – all in effort to work the machine of ministry. We endlessly try to feel and prove to ourselves and those around us that we made a difference and that God is moving. The stress of calibrating all our dials “just so” is exhausting. Especially since every new month we read some book that tells us to recalibrate the machine, and we start all over again.
I have lost count of the number of drives home when I have thought: “I’m terrible at this. These kids aren’t changing. This is impossible.” I’ve lost count of the number of nights I couldn’t sleep. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve cringed at a recent sermon; lost count of my worries; lost count of my meticulously planned schedules that literally disintegrated in the rain. I’ve lost count of the number of times that relying on my own power has left me completely depleted.
But into my lack of power comes Romans 1:16, a scriptural promise I need to be reminded of every moment:
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation…”
Often times, sermons on this passage focus on the idea of “shame.” But I don’t want to talk about being ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel. I want to talk about power. Specifically, “Where does the power to do ministry come from?”
Paul tells us that the power to do ministry comes from the Gospel. Which is odd. When I think of “God’s power,” I first think of miracles: the parting of the Red Sea, the creation of the world, Jesus walking on water, Elijah and the altar consumed in fire, and the mass healings throughout Jesus’ life on earth. But when Paul tells us about the power of God, he talks about none of those things. Instead, he talks about the Gospel.
In fact, this is a recurrent feature of Paul’s ministry. There are only two things Paul ever refers to as the power of God: the Gospel, and Jesus Himself ¹ (Romans 15:19, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 24, 2:5, 2 Corinthians 6:7, 13:4, Ephesians 3:7, 2 Timothy 1:8). I think pastors would do well to meditate on the free exchange of sin for Jesus’ righteousness – the Gospel – as God’s power. The Gospel tells us that in Christ there is a power greater than grinding it out. A power that guarantees the task will be finished. A power that ends with teenagers worshipping around the throne. A power that irresistibly calls and most certainly sanctifies. A power that unites parents to their kids. To all our to-do lists, unfinished projects, and inboxes, the Gospel offers the final checkmark in the final box – “It is finished.” In all those moments we lay on the floor weary and exhausted, the Gospel reminds us that “He has risen” and we are in Him.
I would invite all pastors to lose count of the times you get to remind yourself that the Gospel is the power of God. The Gospel is the power to change, and the Gospel is what has the power to save your students. This sounds theological but there is nothing more practical than this. If you want to be a powerful pastor, here’s your method: Preach the Gospel, period.
If you preach the Gospel, you don’t have to neurotically obsess over attendance at small group and preaching lousy sermons. If you preach the Gospel, you can always be confident God is working. If you preach the Gospel, you can be confident He is changing hearts. If you preach the Gospel each and every sermon, you can sleep when you go home.
Preach the Gospel, and you no longer cringe at your poverty of excellence.
When you preach the Gospel, the power of God shows up. It’s a blood-bought promise. When you preach the Gospel you are faithful, your students are given true power, and the Holy Spirit changes lives. What other power could we ask for?
¹ Greear, J.D., “Gospel” (p18)
This article was originally posted on the Rooted Youth Ministry blog in June 2016.