It’s rather strange when you have enough years of ministry behind you to start to see what you have been building and what you have really achieved. I entered full-time church youth ministry when I was 21 and I’m now 33. Looking back over the last 12 years I can’t help but ask the question how healthy were some of the things I built up and at times really how emotionally healthy was it over all.

When we begin to look back at our ministry if we are honest with ourselves just as we can see the high points and the times we have been so clearly led and guided by God, we can also see the times where it’s been built around our own characteristics and shortcomings instead of Him.

The reality is we are people who bring into our ministries baggage from family life, upbringing, previous church experience and relationships. For example I know people who I am sure only entered youth ministry because they didn’t want to grow up: becoming youth workers because they wanted to remain teenagers, play the Xbox and not get up until lunchtime.

However, if we are going to be the incredible army of leaders our young people and God need us to be then we need to make sure we are fit for the task. We need to be real about the decisions that we make and why we make them. We need to be honest about why and how we project ourselves to our youth group and the church at general. We need to be open about our management style and willing to accept criticism and comments from others.

As part of this engaging with my own motives in ministry, a while ago I began to ask myself questions around why I was making particular decisions for example I might ask myself ‘why’, or ‘what’s going on in me?’ that has lead me to that leadership choice. These weren’t huge bad decisions that I’d made more often good decisions but made with the wrong motives. A good example would be around deciding to promote a particular person to become a small group leader when maybe another person is more capable. We could try and justify that it’s about their spiritual maturity when the reality is its simply because we feel threatened by the other more able person.

As youth workers we often end up in incredible powerful positions within the church and youth community of the area. There are those who look up to us, emulate us, and consider our opinion to be significant and important. However within the wider structures of the church and schools we often feel we need to prove that we are worthwhile, and essential to the work going on. We work hard at being relevant to the young people we work with and often feel we need to prove our worth and importance and then also try and If we are prove our existence to the wider church and our line managers. There is a danger that we work at creating a ‘Glittering Image’ of who we are and our ministry and become worried about how people would react if they realized what we were really like, if we emotionally collapsed, if someone else better than us came along or if a volunteer worker turned out to be more skilled will our views be ignored.

This attempt to create an image, that we then work hard at maintaining can have far reaching effects on our lives, our faith, our marriage and relationships and the young people were are working with.

The point I am making is that healthy youth leaders create healthy communities for their young people. We need to keep our motives in check. We need to be accountable to others. We need to make sure we aren’t trying to build our own ‘glittering image’ but instead working to build the kingdom of God.

These are all tough questions to be asked and it can be painful for us to gaze at ourselves when we are so focused upon our young people but I’m coming to the conclusion it’s of up most importance.

As youth workers we are shining lights for our young people to see, follow and learn from. Which means we need to set an example for every area of their lives. How we deal with our own personal and emotional well-being will be picked up on by our young people and staff watching. It’s also so important in order to sustain our work for many years to come. Why do so many youth works burn out? Could it be because they are fighting to maintain their glittering image? Why do we speak badly about the next-door church’s youth ministry? Is it because we are fearful others will think more highly of it? Why do we become cynical towards other leaders? Could it be because we are secretly fearful they have something we don’t?

Wrestling with questions such as these should be painful and uncomfortable. This isn’t about naval gazing but about looking to see what makes us tick, why do we defend ourselves like we do and what motivates our actions.

The beauty is that the Gospel has always claimed we are more sinful and flawed than we could ever imagine. God knows our real motivations and that’s why he sends his son for us. Paul writes to the Corinthians “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). We are accepted and loved and it’s in this place that we minister and become God’s tools for the job. Part of that is taking seriously the need to examine our motives and ourselves in order to ensure that we are aware of our sin.

Peter Scazzero in ‘The Emotionally Healthy Leader ‘ draws out the need of churches and church leaders to created Emotionally Healthy Churches, where all these issues were considered and worked out. In the same way it is essential that as youth workers we have emotionally healthy ministry. This is one where we understand that our past does affect our present ability to minister, that numbers of external forces have formed who we are and can shape for good or bad how we now make decisions.

It might be worth asking yourself the following questions…

• Could there be any emotional baggage or unfinished business from my past that may well affect my leadership and relationships today?
• What are my motivations for working with young people and are any of them unhealthy?
• Do I seek to find value in the Church and not in Christ?
• Do you really know what you feel and think when making a decision around other leaders?
• Am I running away from anything or is something holding me back from being as powerful a leader as I could be?

In Mark 8 Jesus invites his disciples to die to themselves, their ego, pride, hopes and dreams that his hopes and dreams might be birthed in them. If we are to lead healthy ministries then we need to make sure we are healthy and the only way we can do that is to make sure we are dying to the unhealthy things that Jesus might be birthing the new creation in us. If we long to be emotionally healthy, leading with the right motives then those we lead will notice and they too will follow.

We all need to be nudists

The one thing that summarises Jesus, all his teaching and the way he responds to sinners and the non-religious is ‘grace’. Grace flows through him out into all those he met in large groups or one on one. It is this grace that flows from the Father and the Spirit that blows our minds when we realise how much grace, God has for each and every one of us. There is no place we can hide and no action too far from experiencing God’s grace.

As I’ve travelled around the country and even within my own church, I have been challenged by one line many Christians seem to say to me. I am looking for a ‘grace community’; a church that really embodies Jesus’s grace. Last year I heard of a church called Community of Grace that had split over an issue… the irony. I’ve recently heard this myself within our own community and it’s got me thinking. What do we really mean when we say we are looking to find a church that is a grace community.

In practice I think we are saying we are looking for a church that will accept all my failings and shortcomings, and allow me to still remain a fully committed member of this family. Wouldn’t we all say yes to that? Don’t we all need that?

The thing that I am coming to realise is that what we mean by a grace community isn’t necessarily what Jesus means by a grace community in the gospels. Often, we want a community that will allow all my shortcomings and failures to be swept under the carpet and never mentioned. We want a church that ignores our bad behaviour and pretends it never happened. Essentially a church where anything goes and no-one will ever comment. But if we think about it, this isn’t Jesus’s way either. Jesus always responds with grace but also responds with ‘sin no more’. Grace for Jesus was always hand in hand with repentance.

Paul writes that God’s grace is sufficient for us, his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

For us to really be a grace community we need to start to recognise that our shortcomings and failures can be responded to with bucket loads of grace, but that there is also a time when we too as individuals need to respond by recognising our weakness.

Recently I have been a part of something that made me need to receive grace from someone else. To receive any grace from them, I first needed to acknowledge I had done the wrong thing. If I never admitted there was a problem with me, how could I ever receive their grace? We want to receive the grace without ever acknowledging our actions. We want a grace that paints over our failings without ever routing them out.

Grace never paints over our sin, it replaces it.

We all dream of a community of grace in which we can be fully accepted, a place where we can fall short and still be fully present in that community, but what we also need, therefore, is to be fully aware of our sin. Grace can only be lived out when our sin is out in the open and un-avoided. Essentially we all need to be nudists, living our lives fully in the open, our failings for the world to see; not hidden away but hanging out, warts and all.

Grace isn’t avoiding our sin, pretending it doesn’t exist or covering it up. Grace is being aware of our sin, sitting with it and allowing Jesus’s grace to become present to us. A community really can then be a community of grace. The question for us is, in wanting to receive grace, are we really willing to publicly hold up our hands and admit the problem? Are we, in wanting to receive grace, willing to give grace? If we want a community of nudists, all living in grace, we may need to be the first to take away the fig leaves.

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