I need to confess: I am out of ideas and energy.
I have been serving at Hillside Church for 17 months, and I have accomplished more than I could have ever imagined, even including building a good relationship with my Lead Pastor! This is a result of time and energy invested into the work of God in my community. Given all of this investment, however, I recently encountered something that I never expected.
I awoke one morning a few weeks ago in a cold panic, thinking for the first time that I truly had no clue how to continue our student ministry. Up until this point, I was steadily and consistently implementing a vision for what I thought a successful, vibrant youth ministry could become for our church. Now, I laid awake with a feeling of dread and the weight of a thousand bricks on my chest. I am out of ideas, I thought. And then, I realized:
I am hitting the 18 month wall (a month ahead of schedule - I overachieve even in my own demise). What is the wall? It is like mile 19 of a marathon — that feeling of pure exhaustion and fatigue — of total hopelessness and despair. More than half of all youth pastors in the US resign from their position after 18 months due to these felt conditions. I never believed that I would be one of the many who would hit it, but instead, I slammed smack into it!
I sat up and began to weep. I uttered to myself, "I can't do it." I said aloud and acknowledged the very fear that I could not even admit to my closest confidant and spouse: my limitation. I understood at that moment that for me (and for most youth pastors I suspect), the 18 month wall does not occur merely from overwork, but it is induced through the pain and guilt of impossible self-imposed expectations, along with a misplaced perspective of validation and worth.
That morning, God humbled me to my knees once again. I prayed with my hands open (late for work by this time) for God to relieve my burden. And through prayer, I have since learned and implemented 4 keys to surviving the 18 month wall in order to enjoy a lifetime of ministry involvement:
1. Pray. I cannot overemphasize or overvalue the essential role of prayer in the sustainability of one in ministry. I am brought to my knees everyday and reminded through prayer that I am not in control, I am not on my own, and I am called to the good work of serving adolescents in the church of Jesus Christ, not Ryan Reed.
2. Perspective. As much time and energy as I - or anyone may invest into a ministry, job, or hobby — life exists in addition to and outside of your endeavors. Other people need you. You need others. And most important, your worth and value is not found in either the success or failure of your ministry. Your worth and value comes from God and God alone.
3. Partner. You need good friends. Shortly after my breakdown, I shared this situation with my great friend, Ben Kerns, a 15 year veteran of youth ministry. He sat with me and listened to my woes without any judgment or criticism. Find people like this, and surround yourself with them. They will re-direct you to the quiet, faithful voice of Jesus. I rely upon these great friends and organizational partners with whom I call upon to shoulder the burdens of my personal well-being and ministerial questions.
4. Prioritize. Get these worked out and straight. I restructured mine to reflect the values of my faith and family. Prior, I lived accordingly: Church, Stacy (my wife), and Jesus. Now, my life looks more like this: Jesus, Stacy, and Church. Everything else will align into place so long as these three are rightly ordered.
None of us are fit for ministry. It is only be the grace of God that we continue on with the good work of God for us to accomplish. If you are under the 18 month mark in your ministry, avoid the wall and implement these keys into your game. Stay in the race; don't hang it up after 18 months. Your family, church, ministry, and most of all, God need you to remain healthy… for the sake of the Gospel!
QUESTION: How have you either worked through or avoided the 18-month wall? Tell us about your story!