We must stop setting our sights by the light of each passing ship; instead we must set our course by the stars. – George Marshall
Great leaders like George Marshall know that your gaze must continually be focused on the right things or you will soon find yourself off course. How tempting it is to lose sight of the stars and follow those around you who seem to know where they are going. One of my struggles lately has been the temptation to follow the passing ships in regards to my ministry to young people. It is a battle that I thought I had won years ago but when you take your eyes off the Star for even a minute, it is easy to become disoriented.
I’ve never been about numbers or the popular thing to do. I resisted many youth ministry trends that did not support my philosophy of ministry – a philosophy based on my theology and faith journey with God. I’m proud to say my youth group has never gone to "battle" on high school campuses as "soldiers of Christ". We don’t wear offensive t-shirts that turn people off to God before they can ever hear about God’s love. We don’t spend a lot of money on large entertainment venues that give little to no recognition to the supposed Guest of Honor.
The ministry I serve has mostly known a larger youth group – in the past as well as in recent years while I’ve been the youth pastor. The fluctuations I think have had more to do with the kids that were in the youth family – their degree of outgoingness, hospitality, genuine pursuit of Christ, and their numbers as they grew up in the church. Larger groups came through. They invited friends. The group was larger. Smaller groups came through. They were more timid. The group was smaller. Our group has often been more consistently made up of kids that have grown up in the church. The new kids that have become a part of our family have come from invitations and persistence by their friends. When groups are smaller, not as many friends come.
All this to say – we are at the time in our youth ministry when we have a few classes of smaller groups. They are great youth. Some are very active. Probably the same percentage of active kids as the larger groups. Nevertheless, the group is smaller for really the first time in my eight years. And I find myself looking at the passing ships and listening to the voices of their captains.
And I’m frustrated. With myself.
Nothing good comes from those passing ships. The only things that come are fear and anxiousness, self-doubt and blaming, feelings of inadequacies and desperate behaviors to catch up with the crowd.
How did I lose sight of the Star? How do I get my focus back? Prayer is the answer to both questions. I lost sight because I stopped praying. Instead, I went looking for a bag of tricks to solve the wrong problem. What can I do to get our numbers up? What quick fix and shallow thing can be done to help us catch up? I’ve been in that scrambling, desperate stage that arises out of fear and it is a tiring and shallow place to lead from.
Throughout I could hear the Spirit beckoning me to rest in God. To trust what I’ve know to be true. To get my gaze focused back on the Star and set our course in the direction He leads us. There has never been a promise of being part of the leading fleet. There has never been the promise of a larger crew. The promise has always been that if I’ll set my course by the Star, I’ll never be lost. I may not have a large crew but I’ll never be alone.
One of my deep longings as I headed into this week of vacation was for God to realign my vision. I needed to distance myself from the passing stereotypes and trends of successful youth ministry and to reorient my gaze on the One who is the heart of my ministry. If I’m looking there, my youth will see that and ask, "What are you looking at?" Then they will turn their gazes in the direction of mine and learn to watch the Star, not the passing ships. Isn’t that truly what ministry to youth is about?
Pray for me and for others that are in ministry. Pray that we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.