youth workers and fear

group mag coveri wrote a feature-length article for the current issue of Group Magazine. in fact, they chose to make it the cover article; and they shot this photo of me in a suit at SYMC. i’m not sure how i feel about it (“Fun!” “Look, a whale in a suit!”). but i’m also honored — blown away, really — to be on the cover of Group. it’s a little surreal. i posted the cover on facebook yesterday, and a few of the comments would have made me blow milk out my nose, had i been drinking milk at the time:
– steve knight wrote: “you know what they say, sex sells”
– mike pitts said i looked like a college coach
– adam, my partner in The Youth Cartel, text me, “I’m hoping to be on the swimsuit issue of Group next year.”

anyhow: they put the article online. here are the first couple sections:

Fear Only Fear

I’ve been fired two times from ministry positions.

Well, that’s not fair. I was fired once, and I was laid-off once. But the fearsome inner dialogue that erupted within me—despite 20 years separating the two terminations—was eerily similar. I’d grown and matured in significant ways over those two decades, so my intense reaction to the latest bombshell meant:

A. My interior self hadn’t grown as much as I would’ve hoped, or

B. My experience, while deeply personal, is not uncommon to anyone who’s ever been told, “We don’t want you anymore.”

After walking alongside several fired youth workers over the last few years, my gut tells me both are probably true.

But the focus of this article is not about coping with getting fired. Losing my job was simply the most intense personal experience I’ve had of ongoing and pervasive fear. And the voice of fear has often been the primary tool the evil one has used to keep me frozen—exasperatingly short of the fully transformed life God has dreamed of for me.

In both terminations, I saw it coming. I grasped and positioned and politicked and even begged. I tightened my grip, hoping I could somehow control the situation and distract the approaching monster of loss. Once my control was taken away, I entered a very brief stage of disorientation mixed with relief. The waiting was over. My exerted effort to control (which is tiring!) was no longer necessary.

But quickly on the heels of that moment, the voice of fear started to whisper, then insinuate, then sneer…

“You’re done.”

“No one will hire you after this.”

“You’ll never again impact the Kingdom.”

“Your family is going to starve.” (Yeah, the voice of fear isn’t always rational.)

◊ ◊ ◊

My second termination was less than four years ago, so it’s fresh in my memory. It’s very easy for me to re-live the volcanic emotions of those unendurable months. Sure, I had other strong feelings: anger, sadness, and even something I can only call curiosity. But the struggle that almost undid me was unequivocally an MMA match with my inner voice of fear.

My youth ministry coaching program (for a video introduction to the program, go to has given me a cautious invitation into the deepest places of struggle in the lives of youth workers. And I’ve found, over and over again, that somewhere around half of youth workers struggle with debilitating fear. They might hide it well, even from themselves, but it colors their interactions, nudges their decisions in one direction or another, and limits their freedom and ability to truly be themselves.

I’ll go a step further—we youth workers nurture a collective self-image of fearlessness (“Rawr! I’m a wild one! Get out of my way, ’cause I’m a bundle of Jesus-y action and energy!”). When that vocational stereotype (which is both thrust on us and self-selected) is combined with the spotlight of ministry leadership, it misleads us, telling us that our experiences of fear are not “normal.” And that’s a killer lie.

(the rest of the article unpacks a model for change, voices of resistance, what to do with your fear, and has a sidebar excerpt of my “fear journal” from a few years ago when i lost my job. read it here!)

3 thoughts on “youth workers and fear”

  1. Great post/article. I saw the sentiments you expressed so tangibly last week at the YS UnConference in Dallas. Within the small groups I quickly picked up on the fact that many who were there were desperately hoping to leave with something that would boost attendance or satisfy a request made of them. They were living in (and distracted by) fear. Some were so entrapped by it that when I would attempt to talk about the larger picture of Student Ministry and its significance in our current culture, the conversation was quickly rerouted to “what can I do to get more kids in the doors” and “how can I be seen as more valuable”. My co-minister and I left halfway through the day because (“Praise God!”) these conversations were just not pertinent to our ministry, philosophy and church culture. The experience woke me up to the horrible truth that many ministry leaders operate out of fear rather than the Spirit. It begs the question, as one who sees the issue, “How do I serve and minister to others who live like this?”

  2. hi. there is a message for you on facebook. Cuz we are no friends I think it arrives somewhere in a second inbox. :( Would be really thankful if you read it. My husband and I are teenworkers in Paraguay and we are looking for some advice! Thanx

  3. We picked up a bright red “Unafraid” bumper sticker from Dr. Jeremiah’s Turning Point Ministry with matching red coffee mugs at our church ministry fair a few years ago. My husband put the bumper sticker on our night stand and a few days after that he was laid off from his job. The sticker… strangely enough (it’s kinda funny…if you know us) is a daily reminder of how it all worked out. He landed a way better job within weeks. So every time life seems uncertain, we look at that sticker! Thanks for sharing…and for encouraging us to be unafraid.

Leave a Reply