Motivation: Defeating Discouragement

Overcoming Discouragement and Staying Motivated

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will.
You’ll stay up late perfecting a lesson; you’ll prepare your heart out for your small group time; you’ll pray for a student, by name, that they might be changed by God. Then, the next day, eager to inspire your group, half the students will bail, the ones that show will be nodding off to sleep or distracted by one another, and that student that you prayed for will miss the point entirely.

Yes, it will happen: you will get discouraged.
No worthwhile task is easy, and the uphill climb of leading students will often lead you down a frustrating, rut-filled road.  It is easy to lose sight of the good being done before your eyes. It is easy to be overwhelmed with discouragement. But when circumstances, behavior, or lack of results get you down, be ENCOURAGED. You do not labor in vain, in fact, quite the opposite.

You May Be Missing It
If you had asked me each day of my four-year-old daughter’s life if I’d noticed her growing, the likelihood is that I would’ve answered “no.” However, if you show me a picture of my daughter on the day we brought her home from the hospital, followed by a picture of her blowing out four candles last spring, I would of course answer, “yes.” 

We are around students a lot, at least once a week and probably more.  Often, we don’t notice the incremental growth occurring right in front of our faces. But think back to when your student wasn’t a Christian, or to three years ago when they entered your age group at church. Have they grown? Do they understand the Bible more clearly? Are they walking with Jesus more passionately? The likely answer is “yes.” You just might not be noticing.

The Best Days are Ahead
My mom and dad always said, “I don’t care if you like me now. I want you to love me later.” What they meant was simple, I didn’t have to agree with them about anything in the moment, they were going to do right by me for my future. Similarly, a successful youth ministry is not judged by results now. Instead, it’s judged by followers of Christ ten years from now. To look around your room and become discouraged by what you see is like looking at your retirement savings and expect that you have enough to retire on at age 30.  Things need time to mature, appreciate, and develop. The best days of your ministry are not the day after you meet; they’re the decade after you’ve passed your kids on.

They Just Might Surprise You
There is a trouble-maker in every youth group, a rebel in every crowd.  It’s often the most disruptive, discipline-demanding, destructive students who eventually “get it” and do great things for the Kingdom.  I’ve personally known several problem-children who went on to be preachers, missionaries, and otherwise devoted followers of Christ.  Again, master the art of thinking long-term.  Consistency, caring, and character building matter, but often take years to truly blossom.  The frustrating boy slouching in his seat may just be listening, and great things may happen in his life somewhere down the line.  Don’t give up on any student; God doesn’t.

You Are Not Alone
As cliché as it sounds, we do not labor as one without power behind us.  Did God not encourage Joshua when he faced an impossible foe, “So I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Do not be afraid. Be of good courage.” And on and on it goes.  The Holy Spirit of God is with us every step of the way. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “What can separate us from the love of God?”

If you find yourself discouraged do the following and see if you just don’t snap out of it in a day or two:

• Pray that God would encourage you through His Holy Spirit
• Read Scriptures about courage, faith, and hope
• Remember your calling to work with students. Why do you do it? Why should you tough it out?
• Connect with other youth workers in your church, town, or even online.  Allow them to minister to you.

If discouragement continues, perhaps seeking a trained counselor can help you decipher where your lack of enthusiasm is coming from. One with experience in ministry may be the optimal choice.

Above all, remember why you’re where you are, who it is that put you there, and what it is you’ve been called to do. Remember that you are changing lives every single day, and keep putting one foot in front of the other!

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