"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Personal Life of the Youth Worker

Leading Out of Brokenness

Craig Case

Learn to lead with a limp, or you?re headed for the arrogance trap. Four daily spiritual practices that will clear away the fog of self-absorption.

Early in my ministry, I planned an outreach that drew hundreds of teenagers?40 of them committed their lives to Christ. Thank you notes and backslapping phone calls came flooding into my office. And in the months following, the sweet-smelling aroma of respect and adulation lured me into a trap.

It didn?t take a whole lot of convincing for me to start believing I was the sole reason that outreach was so successful. If youth ministry has something like rock stars, I was ready to smash my guitar onstage somewhere.

Isn?t it amazing how quickly ministry can degenerate into something that?s all about us? Jesus said, ?Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.? There?s nothing ?poor in spirit? about self-absorption.

our empty cup

Not too long ago, I was headed to a basketball game with my 5-year-old son, Alex. I turned on a side street to get to the arena. There on the corner was a homeless man holding a can and asking people for small change. I think that image is a better reference point for true youth ministry than rock stardom. As we move toward kids to impact them for Christ, we have nothing but a can that we hold out to God, begging for his provision and power.

I?m really talking about brokenness here?not our favorite subject. But brokenness fuels Christlike ministry. The Apostle Paul understood this truth: ?I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead? (Philippians 3:10).

I once heard Rick Warren, senior pastor at Saddleback Valley Community Church, talk about Jacob?s wrestling match with an angel. He said that people who love God ?lead with a limp.? Does that mean God plans on purposely crippling me somehow? No, but we all have weaknesses. And whatever they are, they?re the best conduits for God?s power in our lives. When we operate out of brokenness, we stop resting on our abilities and start actually depending on God?s grace.

Brokenness is a good thing.

learning to limp

My limp is anxiety. For the last year, I?ve been crippled by it repeatedly. In ministry and in my personal life, panic attacks have assaulted and broken me. My fears about failing in front of people infuse my thoughts. And in my role as a youth minister, I?m always in front of people.
For months, I tried to overcome my limp by myself. When that didn?t work I tried to hide it. But it just got worse. Finally, I was desperate enough to talk to my senior pastor about it. He surprised me by telling me to simply stop fighting my weakness and admit it.

I think Chuck Swindoll got it right in his biography of Moses, Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication?he described the difference in our ministry when it?s less about us and more about God: ?When God?s in it...it flows,? he says. ?When the flesh is in it...it?s forced.? How often are you midstream in some new program, feeling like you?re cranking as hard as you can just to keep it going?

When we lead out of brokenness, we realize that our gifts, talents, and abilities flow from God. When we lead out of brokenness, we are more apt to see where God is working in our ministry and then join him there.

the everyday habits of brokenness

Here?s the checklist I use to remind myself to lead from brokenness.

1. Have a cup of coffee with God. I?ve discovered that God is eager to be a reality check for me?but it takes time to offload all the stuff that?s cluttering up my vision so I can see what he wants me to see about myself. Like many things in youth ministry, this truth is easy to understand and harder to practice.
Focused time is really the crux of it?either you?re giving it to him or you?re not.

2. Surrender yourself. Several times a day, I audibly tell God that I surrender to him every area of my life?my family, ministry, future, and possessions. It?s incredibly freeing to know that my life depends more on God and less on me. As I write this, I?m in the midst of a huge outreach. I?m sweating out many details; for example, we may have too many teenagers for the small gym that?s serving as our ministry base. But a moment ago, I surrendered this whole event to God?again. I will lay it all on the line for God and rest in his power.

3. Honestly acknowledge your weaknesses and your dependence on God. I?ve had many performance evaluations over the years?they?ve all had two things in common: praise for my ?strengths? and suggestions for my ?areas to improve.? The latter is really just a nice way of labeling my weaknesses. And I think it?s time to stop using nice labels. We turn the key to enter into brokenness when we acknowledge our clear weaknesses and admit we desperately need the help of loved ones and the power of God. The poor in spirit know their condition and their need for God.

4. Receive every compliment, but give credit to God. Success in ministry can breed disaster. When the kids are growing and the numbers are going up, parents and others say things that tempt us to believe we?re messiahs. So when someone compliments me, I do two things: (1) honestly, earnestly receive it, and (2) find a way to acknowledge God?s presence and power in it. I do this to remind the person giving me the compliment and (more critically) myself that God is really the source behind the success.

tasting God?s goodness in brokenness

The prophet Jeremiah experienced intense brokenness. His ministry was more challenging than facing a herd of angry parents or a pack of rude seventh-grade boys. He was beaten, whipped, and tortured (come to think of it, that?s a fair description of what happened at last Wednesday?s group meeting). Jeremiah was targeted for this five-star treatment because of his dogged faithfulness to God. He told the Israelites that if they didn?t change their wayward lives, they?d be forced into exile. They didn?t listen, and they were exiled.

The people never repented of the abusive way they treated Jeremiah. They never slapped him on the back and said, ?Thanks for your faithfulness to God. We?re so lucky to have you here. Keep up the great work!? He never had an appreciation dinner planned in his honor. And he never had a surprise farewell party like the one thrown for Richard Dreyfuss? character in the movie, Mr. Holland?s Opus. Jeremiah never finished his opus.

But Jeremiah is one of my heroes?he led from brokenness. In Lamentations, this great leader weeps as he remembers the pain, humiliation, and sadness of the exiled Israelites. He asks God the same question we ask: ?Why did you do this to me?? And then he does something startling?he affirms God?s faithfulness to him. ?Because of the Lord?s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness? (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Jeremiah was never closer to the Lord than in this moment. And if you?ve embraced your brokenness, you know why.


Craig Case is a veteran Minnesota youth minister who specializes in reaching junior highers.


Used my permission, Group Magazine, Copyright May-June, 2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.

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