The National Conference on Youth Ministries got underway today in Daytona Beach, FL. The theme this year is “CREATE.” Youth ministry should be inherently creative. More than some other ministries, we have creative freedom to reach as many teenagers as possible. I’m looking forward to what the week has to offer.

As we got started, Luke Norsworthy of the Westover Church of Christ presented the opening keynote. To be honest, his message was a punch to the gut. I’m one of those people who feels the need to achieve my goals, to appear successful, to impress others with my skills and knowledge. When things go wrong or when people don’t respond how I think they should, I take it very personally.

Luke challenged us to minister out of our own God-given significance. It’s not a pursuit of status. We already have status. We are children of God. God loves us and is pleased with us before we ever do anything to deserve it.

He pointed us to the baptism of Jesus. During that sacred moment, God’s voice boomed from heaven, “This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased.”

But do we realize that God said this before Jesus ever preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or began his ministry?

Jesus didn’t have to do anything to earn God’s love or favor. Jesus had God’s love and favor already because he was God’s son. Period.

My own boys don’t need to do anything to earn my love or my favor or my pride in them. They already have it. They’re my sons, whom I love. With them I am well pleased.

And we are God’s sons and daughters, whom God loves and is well pleased.

Yet here we are, constantly thinking we have to perform in order to earn God’s love and grace. And ministers are by no means immune to this tendency. In fact, I would argue that ministers are probably more susceptible to this than others. We may begin our ministry careers with the right motives. But then the compliments roll in, the pats on the back keep coming, the number of those in our care increases, and our ego gets fed. We begin to connect our own self-worth to our success, and it feels good.

Really good.

Until it doesn’t.

This can’t last. It’s not a sustainable source of self-worth for ministers or anyone else. Because the success will eventually turn to failure. Attendance will drop. Compliments will be replaced by criticisms. And if our self-worth is tied to success, we can take these failures as personal attacks.

Speaking from experience, this is not a fun or fulfilling way to live.

Luke challenged us, “When you learn to live out of your God-given significance, everything changes. The voice that says, ‘You are my beloved,’ will be enough.”

Then we will be free to create, innovate, and grow in ways we never through possible.

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