We are familiar with the story of Joseph from Genesis. As a young boy, Joseph received a vision from God that he would lead his family. First, however, Joseph would be led on a journey of personal tragedy before he came to a glorious victory for not only him, but also for his whole family. As I was doing some deeper study into Joseph’s story, three things stuck out to me that parallel youth ministry.
Family may not always understand calling.
When Joseph announced his dreams to his family in Genesis 37, his dreams were not well received by his older brothers. Even Jacob, his father, was taken aback by the idea that he would bow before his youngest son. At the time of his dreams, Joseph was not sure of the interpretation, but it did indicate that God had a unique calling on his life.
Many of us in our revelatory moments of calling have had similar reactions. When I surrendered to the ministry in high school, members of my family asked me why I wanted to do that. They were all Christians, too, yet, my calling to the ministry did not come with a validation from my family. Yes, it would have been nice for my family to support and understand my calling to the ministry, but it didn’t happen. When you answer God’s call on your life, support and validation may not come from everyone who loves us.
At times, there is the tension in being obedient to God’s call and being unable to please our family. There are times in our life when our calling will not make sense to our family. The most difficult times for me are around holidays and special occasions. As ministers, the church where we serve expects us to be at special events such as the Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve, among other events. If our extended family lives a few hours away, they may celebrate major holidays without us since our schedules do not always fit with the rest of the family. We are expected to “work” on Sunday while most of our families have Sunday off to get together and watch football or celebrate a birthday.
Integrity protects our calling.
Joseph could have felt justified in cutting “corners.” Look at all he endured. He didn’t deserve any of it. When Potiphar’s wife came along, Joseph could have reasoned that after all he had been through, he deserved some enjoyment for himself. However, he chose to stay faithful to his calling and runaway from a tempting situation.
When Joseph’s brothers stood in front of him in Egypt, he has the opportunity to pay them back for all the heartache they had caused him. As Joseph’s story nears its conclusion in Egypt in Genesis 45-50, the brothers expect revenge. Yet, Joseph recognizes God’s greater plan at work. Genesis 50:19-21 sums up the purpose of the whole ordeal: “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Bold mine.)
I tell my students often, “Your relationship with God is the most important thing for your ministry and calling.” The growth of that relationship produces character and integrity. It is a choice to do the right thing, even if no one is looking or it’s unpopular. When we choose to live a life of integrity, we are allowing God’s plan and His purpose for our lives to overshadow any personal desires or passions we may have.
In ministry, there are temptations to pursue power. We can imagine ourselves in that senior pastor role doing a much better job. We’ve heard stories of youth pastors splitting churches by “starting a new church” across the street. Yet, it might be that the best place for us in this season of life is to stay in youth ministry and submit to God’s will and timing.
As humans, we may love nothing more than to see someone who wronged us get what they deserve. It’s hard to visit and pray over that person with cancer, when six months earlier, he made the motion to fire me. But if I am fully submitted to God’s call on my life, I will shepherd and love even the stubborn sheep.
Integrity is most necessary when we are weary. Satan loves to catch us when we are at our lowest. Perhaps, you have had an extended fight with your spouse and coming home has not been the safe haven it used to be. In addition to home strife, your spouse has begun to question if they even want to be married to a minister. At the same time, a volunteer of the opposite sex is beyond grateful for your ministry and your help. It might be very tempting to hear what we want to hear instead of going home and trying to rekindle a healthy relationship with our spouse. Knowing the right choice and acting on it shows strength of character. Sadly, too many ministers have fallen into the snare of hurt feelings.
Adversity is part of the growth process
Joseph was mistreated by his brothers, taken from his home, enslaved, falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten before he became the number 2 ruler in Egypt. God used every incident in Joseph’s life to build him into the man he became.
When I surrendered to ministry as a sophomore in high school, I wanted to experience things with God that no one else would experience. I didn’t surrender as much as volunteered to serve the Lord. Little did I know that with those joyful experiences would come some agonizing experiences. The joyful experiences affirmed my call while the agonizing experiences strengthened my faith to endure some of the darkest days of my calling.
Do you quit when a pastor tells you he doesn’t think you have what it takes to do youth ministry, or do you go to our prayer closet and seek the Lord’s affirmation? How will you respond when a parent goes around telling other parents that your youth ministry is not interesting enough for their teenager? Will you stay true to your youth ministry philosophy or cater to pleasing others? When the budget/finance committee cuts your measly salary by 10% due to giving concerns, will you have the faith to trust the Lord to provide?
Remember in those difficult days that God uses those experiences to build you for something more. They are strengthening exercises so that you will be able to handle more responsibility later on in your ministry. In addition, difficult experiences create opportunities for you to disciple others who will eventually go through similar process.
The life of Joseph is a testimony to the faithfulness of God even when the human elements don’t want to play nice. Our callings are that different. For Joseph and for us, what was and is necessary is a remembrance toward who we serve and why we serve: “the saving of many lives.”