The Valley of the Shadow of Spring


By Marty Estes

It’s that time of year again, the time when winter clothes are put away, when school begins to wrap up, and inevitably—for most youth ministries—the slump begins. Students are increasingly busy with sports, the end of school, and well, it’s just too darn pretty outside! Many of those that seemed to be committed attenders suddenly are gone every other week fulfilling their roles on the field, the track, or just enjoying ice cream with their friends. Attendance dwindles, and if we aren’t careful, anxiety goes up…what’s a youth worker to do?

In almost 15 years of ministry I’ve seen it happen time and time again, as sure as the tide; but it doesn’t stop me from despairing each and every year as the “Spring Slump” comes creeping on again. But, one thing that long term youth work has allowed me to understand is that there are two perspectives I can choose from when the slump comes: first, the perspective that says “it’s temporary, summer will come and pass, school will begin again, and vibrancy will return.” Second, there’s the “OH KNOW, THE SKY IS FALLING”, Chicken Little-esque school of thought that is actually more dangerous than it appears. Why is it dangerous? Many youth workers, faced with the prospects of falling attendance and failing participation turn to gimmicky events, give aways, games and more that may create a flash for a moment, but actually harm your ministry in the long run.

So, here’s what I propose: let’s all take a deep breath, prop our feet up just for a moment, and say to ourselves, “It’s going to be alright.” God is still God as the school year winds down just as he is in the fall. Numbers do not reflect the calling that you have, nor the result of the equipping you have done (I mean, unless you’re just slacking on the job!). What matters is the ministry you are doing to the teenagers that show up every week, the relationships you are building, and the efforts you make to connect those wayward teens to your ministry. Allow yourself some grace, spend time with your family, find a hobby that rejuvenates you, and continue to do the good work you’re doing! You may not notice the impact that you’re having right now; but I guarantee you are for someone.

With that said, I offer you this modern day Psalm, for when we walk through the valley of the shadow of spring.

The Lord is my shepherd,

even though I may not think I have all I need.

He lets me rest between ballgames,

he leads me into peaceful meetings.

He renews my strength.

He guides me into relationships with students

bringing glory to His name.

Even though I walk through the shadow of the valley of spring

I will not worry

For you tell me I am greater than the numbers of my Wednesday night program.

Your rod and staff comfort me (even though I want to use them to beat someone)

You prepare a feast for me

at the Taco Bell of my choosing

You honor me by anointing my head with sweat

as I rush to another ministry event.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me (because I may be too tired to pursue you)

all the days of my calendar

and I will live in the house of Lord forever.