The Spiritualized Seduction of Busy-ness


Mark Oestreicher, The Youth Cartel

Christmas shoppingHere’s a seductive misconception that has very little to do with how long you’ve been in youth ministry: since I’m busy doing God’s work, my soul will take care of itself. Or, a slight variation: since I’m busy doing God’s work, God will take care of my soul.

I say this misconception is seductive for a couple reasons: first, it’s intuitive. It seems that giving all our time and energy to the never-ending needs of youth work should result in a healthy, well-cared-for soul. It seems that spending more and more time on the work of the kingdom should result in my own spiritual life and vitality being full and built-up and vigorous and full of life.

But it doesn’t work that way. And one of the main reasons it doesn’t work that way is because God actually cares more about you as a person, his wonderful and sublime creation, than about the output of your youth ministry. Taking care of your own soul is counter-intuitive.

The other reason I use the word ‘seductive’ is that it’s counter to so much of what we’ve heard from our churches and the church culture in general. ‘Work harder’; ‘work longer’; ‘grow the youth group by a few more’; ‘go after that one more lost sheep’ – these are the spiritualized messages we’ve all received. And that steady diet of warped messages can (and almost always does) result in ministering from a place of spiritual emptiness (at best) or burn out (at worst).

Look: no one (not your pastor, not the parents of your youth, not your youth ministry peers, and certainly not your youth) will be a caretaker for your soul. Jesus pulled away from the crowds for times of silence and reflection and prayer. If Jesus (God!) needed that, then it’s nothing but self-delusion that would lead us to believe we could be any different.

I’ll be honest – this is a lesson I’m still learning. To pull away from the demands of ministry, to disconnect from my cell phone and Facebook and email, to engage silence and truly engage God when it’s not about prep for a youth talk – these are the things that create in me a place to minister from, which, at the end of the day, is more important than the places I minister to.

The upcoming Christmas season is a great change for you to run fast and run hard and fry yourself; or, it’s a chance to rest. Which will you choose (because it really is your choice)?