Leading When There’s No One to Lead

High school and middle school ministries are the hardest places to serve in the church. Between managing drama among the group, inconsistent attendance, and overall silliness it often feels like your volunteer energy is wasted away into empty space. Even with those frustrations I would be the first to tell you that student ministry is worth serving in. The students are fantastic and funny. They have this infectious, youthful energy that is a joy to be around. They are curious and hopeful and not yet spoiled by adulthood. They think differently, and ask questions that sometimes has never crossed your mind. Student ministry is a great place to serve, especially when you serve at a church that values their volunteers.

But, inevitably you will run into one of the many frustrations of student ministries. I’ve seen it happen in every group I’ve lead and every group my husband has lead. Invariably you will run into one of the following problems: students stop coming, drama and fighting between the students in the group, a co-leader that has to leave the group, or students wanting to switch to another group. Any one of these things can make it feel like leaving and giving it up as a bad job.

When students start dropping or when your wisdom falls on deaf ears, remember that God sees what you are giving. Serving and giving of yourself is an investment in your relationship with God, just as much as it is about loving on your students. God sees your good work. God sees you showing up. God sees you even if your entire group skips out.

Let me repeat again in case you missed it: God sees you.

And just as God sees you, others see it too. To quote Andy Stanely, “You never know what hangs in the balance.” In the first high school small group that I lead I had a lot of girls stop coming. It was normal for me to show up and have no students to lead. It was really disheartening. Especially because it wasn’t like the girls didn’t like me, or appreciate my input in their lives. Ultimately the youth ministry just wasn’t meeting their needs, they needed something more than what our outwardly-focused services could offer. I recognized this way too late. In addition to the service not meeting their needs, my fantastic girls where smart, athletic and leaders, and were probably the busiest high school students I’d ever met.

What surprised me the most was others reactions to my steadfastness despite the lack of attendance. I showed up week after week, not only at church on Sundays, but also at a bible study I was trying to start. I had a long conversation with a server about the church because he saw me show up every week and wanted to know what I was doing. I got a very long text from one of my students telling me that she was sorry that she didn’t come more often and that she appreciated me reaching out to her, even when she hardly ever responded.

Wait patiently for the Lord . Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. – Psalms 27:14 (NLT)

Whatever it is that has you frustrated with your serving experience, God can handle it. Give it over to God. Ask Him to use you and your time however He needs, even if it is reaching just one student instead of ten.