Youth Pastor Panel: The Joys & Pains of Spiritual Growth

As youth pastors, it's easy to get caught up in constantly pouring out into the lives our students that we may forget to take care of ourselves. Afterall, their development is directly affected by our own. It's extremely important to take the time to grow in our own spiritual walks every day.

We knew how difficult it can be sometimes, so we asked some of our favorite youth pastors to share how they overcome obstacles when it comes to spiritual growth. Here's what they had to say:

1. Have you ever felt like you hit a plateau in your walk with the Lord or in your ability to lead?

BLAKE (Student Pastor and blogger at blakeappleby.org): There have been many seasons of spiritual deprivation in my life, which are usually a byproduct of a fractured view of who God is. It’s in these dry and needy areas of life that my ability to lead is hindered. If I’m going to lead well, I must be growing spiritually. This growth comes by grace and it is God alone who provides this strength. However, when I’m foolish enough to try to lead on my own strength, I’m prone to failure.

JENNIFER (youth pastor and blogger at Blessed Family of Flowers): There may have been bouts of time where I didn't feel the Lord’s presence or that I was growing full steam ahead, but I know there was never a specific time where I actually stopped growing in my faith. At times, it may have been slow going but I believe that God had a plan and His timing was always perfect.

I do believe there are different levels of Christian growth and maturity that occur before we are fully formed into who He needs us to be. When I was a child, my grandparents influenced me; they planted the seeds of Christianity within me. It wasn't until I was an adult that those seeds began to grow. That doesn’t mean I was stalled in my Christian growth - He had a plan and a time for me to blossom into who I am today.

There have been dark times when I was completely shattered and broken into a million tiny pieces. I didn’t know how I would get through those times, but I strongly felt God’s presence. Looking back, I know I wouldn’t have gotten through it without His strength. I don’t feel that same level of presence now but it's not because He isn’t there, it’s because I have learned to put my trust in Him and believe He has a plan no matter what. Because of my experiences and influences from Him, I'm able to lead others into the Christian walk, faith, and relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

JOSH (youth pastor, speaker, and blogger at joshhevans.wordpress.com: I certainly have! I have learned that in ministry, it’s a difficult place to grow. For me, sometimes I find myself working on the ministry, and doing it for the sake of a job rather than for Jesus! When you start having this mindset, you have stopped growing.

HOLLY (pastor's wife and blogger at Simply Holly): There have been times where I’ve felt like I had nothing else to give to the students we were leading. I would read God’s word and yet I would be numb. I loved student ministry and at the same time it was sucking the life out of both me and my marriage. I remember getting to that place where leading in ministry was nothing more than a job and following God was simply out of duty. Early on we had no type of leadership or mentoring in our lives and that played a huge part of burnout because we were pouring out 100% of the time and no one was pouring back into us. We were both young and didn't understand boundaries and that keeping rest a part of our lives both individually and as a couple was an important key to our growth. It was truly a desert moment in our ministry.

CARY (from his blog caryschmidt.com): Yes, yes, yes! I think this is a part of spiritual opposition. The enemy is the accuser of the brethren, and he constantly tries to discourage us! If we give into these discouraging moments, we lose a lot of bigger battles. If we endure them, God will always renew our strength and breath new life into our hearts. For me, the only way through these times was to patiently walk with the Lord and wait on Him. (Isaiah 40:31)

youth pastor bible study2. Can you give some examples of how you were able to overcome that or grow out of it?

BLAKE: First of all, it took hitting a wall before I acknowledged where God wanted me to be. I had welcomed spiritual lack, depression, unhealthy anxiety levels, and other problems into my life. After this season, I was able to focus on where God wanted me to be. I then understood that the greatest lessons are not learned on the mountaintop, but rather in the valley.

Next, surrounding myself with accountability partners was a mandatory step. These were people who cared deeply for me, and helped me in my spiritual walk. They weren’t afraid to make me feel uncomfortable. I needed this!

JENNIFER: I've never really experienced a lapse in growth. That's only because I can look back with a clear vision and see God's hand on my life. I may not have realized it at the time but I was constantly growing in my faith with Him.

JOSH: You have to put your personal relationship with Jesus above anything else! This sounds like the easy answer, but when you do this you can share with your ministry what Jesus is personally doing in your life. When you do this, it normally creates the best types of sermons.

HOLLY: As we began to see things changing in our marriage and noticing that we were literally out of energy, out of passion we knew we had to get serious and ask for God to do something inside our hearts. I remember standing in a youth conference and listening to the words of a song and I begin to sob like a baby. The lyrics were "take me to that place Lord, to that secret place Lord, where I can be with You, and You can make me like You" and as I stood there weeping I remember feeling God whisper into my heart, “I just want you. Not all of your performances or busy ministry attempts to draw close to me.” Because I had grown up in such a performance driven environment I had placed unreal expectations on myself as well as my Creator. God changed my heart and birthed a new passion in me, and my love for students and girls ministry became stronger than the idea of ministry itself.

CARY: I don't think we ever "out-grow" these ups and downs. I do believe we learn to anticipate, expect, and better navigate them with God's wisdom. The longer you serve the Lord, the more you expect times like this. Often it boils down to spiritual, emotional, or physical depletion - or all three. The best thing to do is rest, restore, and wait on God. These times don't last forever. You do eventually get through them. The key is, don't make a bad decision while in the middle of a discouraging time.

3. What can you recommend for youth pastors to do to continually grow in their walk with God and leadership in ministry?

BLAKE: You need understand that nothing great can be accomplished without the power of God. Youth pastors, I know we like to prove ourselves and do things on our own. But this lifestyle will cause you to experience things you never wanted to experience. Therefore, stay close and clean with God. He alone is your source of strength. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

JENNIFER: Have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You can do this by spending time with Him every day through prayer and Bible reading. In addition, I would suggest being a part of a community of believers for support, guidance, and encouragement.  Or even try finding a mentor to pour into you. Finally, get out there and spend time with those who are still in the dark too - they are the ones who need us the most.

JOSH: Do your personal quiet time (devotions) in the morning first thing! If you wait, it normally doesn’t get done. Also, never substitute studying for sermons and ministry stuff for your personal enrichment.

HOLLY: My husband is a full time pastor now. In the beginning, his transition from student pastor to full time pastor was hard for me. I began to pray for mentors and seasoned people to surround us with wisdom and love. God sent some incredible pastors and their wives into our lives. They taught us to keep our time as a couple and family sacred, to be ourselves in spite of what others want us to be, to serve God with our whole hearts, and leave the results up to Him. I have learned that being in His presence is precious and I love getting away and just listening. I operate in my gifting and that increases my passion.

I encourage pastors’ wives to truly support their husbands and encourage them, pray for them, and love them with a relentless love. Submission is the act of placing yourself under the authority of His leadership. And pastors loving your wives like Christ loves the church means to put down the phone, walk away from the office and pursue her heart with all you have. When you align those things, ministry becomes an overflow of God’s heart rather than trying to do ministry alone.

CARY: Foremost—walk with God. Nothing is more important than being with Him and seeking His heart. Second, read. Third, get around men and women and ministries that sharpen, equip, and motivate you toward greater vision and better leadership.

Final Thoughts

Everyone hits a plateau from time to time. We just have to learn to not accept complacency and to really seek out the Lord in our spiritual walks. When we position ourselves to really be poured into by God, encouraged by our peers, and spend time in prayer and the Bible, all that good stuff will soon overflow into the lives of our students. And that's what it's all about - love God and love people.

We can’t thank these five enough for taking the time to be vulnerable and share their experiences and advice.

  • Blake Appleby - Student Pastor at First Baptist Church in Bryceville, FL and soon-to-be author of the Student Devotional titled "Free," find out more in his blog.
  • Jennifer Hyatt - Teacher and Youth Pastor at Inner Light Christian Academy in Temecula, CA, you can read more about Jen’s thoughts on her blog.
  • Josh Evans -  Blogger, Speaker, and Student Pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church in Winston Salem, NC. He's passionate about mentoring students and has been doing so for over 4 years. Read more about what Josh is up to on his blog.
  • Holly Myers - Founder and President of UNBOUND Ministry and pastor's wife at Revolution Church in Gastonia, NC. Holly is passionate about reaching girls and young women to know their true idendity and worth in Jesus Christ. Read more about her ministry here.
  • Cary Schmidt - Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Newington, CT and published author, get tons of encouraging words, insight, and resources at his blog

What are some of the things you do to keep growing spiritually? What's the best advice you've ever received about staying refreshed in your own spiritual walk?


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