Over the years, whenever I find myself feeling unsettled, uneasy, unfulfilled or unsatisfied I check my internal “contentment meter”. And when I do, more often than not, I find that personal discontentment is the disease and the stuff I’m feeling in the moment are the symptoms.
Another key to lasting for the long haul in youth ministry (especially junior high ministry) is to practice the art of contentment. I say “practice the art” very intentionally because contentment doesn’t come naturally for most; it takes practice and because it is truly more of an art than a science; I don’t think there are formulas one can follow that guarantees contentment. When feeling discontent, there are typically layers and layers of possible causes, and trying to simplify something that can oftentimes be quite complex isn’t an easy thing to do. However, practicing the art of contentment does seem to start at a fairly easy-to-identify place: Our attitude. Simply put, contentment is a state of mind that one chooses to live in. We see this in Paul’s classic statement in Philippians 4:13 written from a prison cell!
In my pursuit of contentment, I have found three roadblocks that seem to get in my path…three areas that, when I give them too much attention, chip away at my ability to be content; they drain my personal “contentment meter”
1) FINANCES: Very few things cause youth workers more stress than their personal finances! None of us got into this gig hoping to get rich, but we certainly hoped to be able to figure out a way to do youth ministry without being condemned to the poor house! I have to think about money…I have a family counting on my ability to earn a living. But when I think about it too much….when I focus on how much more money I could make in another line of work, or even in another department of our church, I hurt my ability to be content.
2) COMPARING: Why does the church down the street have a youth room? How come I don’t get as much vacation time as the music pastor? Why do I have to juggle two jobs while the guy at the mega church youth ministry seems like he has tons of free time? All of those are actual questions I have been asked by fellow junior high youth workers; and I’ve similar ones myself from time to time. Do yourself a favor: Don’t play the comparison game…it’s a losing proposition! The parable of the vineyard workers teaches us the danger of comparing our “deal” with the deal somebody else has.
3) ENTITLEMENT: This attitude typically follows closely on the heals of comparison. When we compare, we quickly begin to feel entitled. A sense of entitlement, determining we deserve the stuff we’ve decided we deserve, will ALWAYS devour your ability to be content.
I’m not proposing you have to accept the status quo, squelch any desire for advancement and financial gain or stick up for yourself, your family and your future when appropriate. But, I am saying that if you allow yourself to be consumed by such things contentment will elude you….and likely so will a long career in youth ministry.