My pastor’s father always told him, “If you lose your thankfulness, you lose your joy.” As we head toward the week of Thanksgiving, a lot of people start thinking about all the things they are grateful for in their lives. We give more thanks to God for all our blessings and try to remember to tell others how much we appreciate them too. But with all this extra talk about thankfulness, ingratitude can really sting. We can look around at all our time, effort, and sacrifices that seem to go unnoticed or are even rejected in our Christian ministry. We can even start to wonder if our efforts matter at all. This week, I got my feelings hurt for that very reason. It wasn’t until I remembered what the Bible says about our motivation that I was able to give the offense to God and move forward in ministry.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”Ephesians 4:11-12
When people hear the word “ministry,” they often immediately think of a pastor who is called to preach and shepherd a congregation. But in this verse, “ministry” is Strong’s Concordance number G1248. It means “of the ministration or service of all who, endowed by God with powers of mind and heart peculiarly adapted to this end, endeavor zealously and laboriously to promote the cause of Christ among men.”
Where God calls, He equips. Many Christians today have been given the desire and power to promote the cause of Christ. Whether it’s from a pulpit, on the street, behind tables, or on our knees, we all have a job to do for the Lord that involves prayer, effort, and dedication.
My Ministry with Teenagers
My ministry is teaching high school. I also volunteer with the school’s Christian club on campus. This year my contributions to the club are to oversee the Remind messages that announce meetings and to compile and publish prayer requests. In previous years, I also shared the responsibility of presenting messages along with the official sponsor and occasionally the other volunteer. We would trade off weeks, so I would do that about once or twice a month.
Looking back, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t pray for God to give me guidance about the message He wanted me to present. In fact, I remember several times in which I felt led to go a specific direction with a message for the students. Since our meetings are on Fridays before school, typically we would have about 15-20 minutes for a quick snack, message, discussion, and prayer.
This Year’s Christian Club
This year, with no extra marketing, the Lord has done a work at my school. Whereas the club used to run about 12-20 students at weekly meetings, we are now running 60-80 students. We have moved from a classroom to our small theater, and local youth leaders and students have started to get more involved. It has really been a beautiful thing to see.
In fact, this past week I was thrilled when I heard that a student had signed up to be the speaker at the meeting. He has been a member for a couple of years. Now that he is a senior, he has moved into the position of president of the club. He has spoken already once this year and did a terrific job. He led the kids in prayer for various things on our campus. I didn’t know what he was going to talk about, but I was excited to see what God would do through him and his zeal for the Lord.
His speech was short and to the point. Someone had asked him what our Christian club was about, and he had thought about it. He said that last year the teachers had been the presenters and “I’m not gonna lie, it kind of sucked. It felt like having a ninth period.” This year, he said, was going to be different as the students were taking more of a role in leading the meetings. It would be a club by the students for the students. Then he sat down. The sponsor made a joke about how he hoped it wouldn’t suck too much for them to hear him talk. Then he filled the rest of the time with prayer points for our school.
My Efforts Were Rejected
The thing is, I knew what the kid was thinking. “You weren’t the problem.” See, the sponsor is a coach and former youth minister. His style is very off-the-cuff. So on his weeks (which were most of them), he would come in and tell a story or bring up a Bible verse and then ask the kids to discuss. It was pretty light and felt almost superficial at times. He had done several of those kinds of lessons already this year in between the other students and guests who had come to speak.
I, on the other hand, am not an impromptu speaker. I’m English teacher and a blogger who usually deals with much more meaty topics. On my weeks, my messages were styled more like lessons. I wrote them out ahead of time and used videos, slides, and discussion questions to get the message across. They were lessons like using the Lord’s Prayer as a template, breaking down Psalm 23, and understanding John 3:16 for evangelism. I felt like I had the Lord’s leading and was using the methods I knew best to get the message across to the students who would benefit greatly from them.
But not only did the now-president of the club not appreciate the work I put into lessons (praying for messages, putting them together, getting there early for meetings, and spending my own money for breakfast snacks on “my week”), but he said sitting through them “sucked.” Wow. Then I started to think about all the time and effort I spend this year. I select encouraging messages with Bible verses, songs, and videos to go along with the meeting reminders on the Remind app. Do the kids hate those too? Why on earth was I wasting my time?
An “Aha” Moment
Later that same day in my classroom, I had my seniors take time to write a thank you note to a teacher, administrator, or counselor whom they appreciated. I then put them into mailboxes later that day. As they wrote their messages, I happened to overhear a discussion among a few girls near my desk. They were talking about writing their letters to a certain teacher. “She is so chill and laid back,” one said. It occurred to me that the value was placed not so much on effort but on non-interference.
On hindsight, I guess I should have seen this coming. Last year some of the kids (this year’s president included) had formed the Jesus Club which meets on Tuesday afternoons as a club that is run solely by students. They still came to our club before school but had the other one after school as well. When we saw that the kids wanted to take more of a leadership role in our Christian club, we opened up the schedule to students to lead the meetings, but nobody signed up. We kept up the teacher-led format for the rest of the year by default.
What’s My Motivation?
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”Colossians 3:23-24
So while I felt like I had the mind of the Lord and the kids’ best interest at heart, the truth was that the kids were not interested in what I had to teach. As a climate at my school, a lot of students see teachers’ efforts to guide, correct, and build them as more of a hassle than a help. The Lord knew my desire and capacity. Still, He led me to teach the lessons, so I have to believe He had a purpose. Maybe some didn’t want to listen to another teacher wah-wah-wah from the front of the room. But maybe somebody learned something that the Lord knew they needed to hear. (Or maybe He just wanted the kids to start the Jesus Club. That way a Christian club is available to students both before and after school.)
In any case, the Lord called me, equipped me, and put me at my school. I am there to do a job for Him. Whether I receive a “thank you” or a punch in the nose for my effort makes little difference in view of eternity. Of course, I forgave the kid for hurting my feelings and gave my wounds to God for bandage. With the new format, I’m not doing any direct teaching this year. I will continue to run the reminder messages and prayer requests and whatever else I’m needed to do behind the scenes.
When Ministry is Thankless, Thank the Lord
Even gifted with passion and power, working for God can be a difficult business. When our time and effort seem to go unnoticed or even rejected by people, it can be quite discouraging and even hurt. That’s when it helps to remember why we do what we do. It’s all for the cause of Christ, and it’s a privilege and an honor to be called into His service. We can be thankful knowing that He sees our efforts and will reward us in due time.
If you need more encouragement, try, I Am That I Am Is Everything We Need. Or, try Instead of Fear, Choose Faith in God’s Promises. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email. Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.