Monthly youth leaders column


The word implies a setting out to change for the better. I will use my time better than I did last year. I will not spend as much time saying trivial things on Facebook. I do not need to know what even my best friend had for dinner. I wonder if you even bother to make resolutions, knowing that you won’t have the self-discipline to keep them. So you give them up on January 3.

Self-control is biblical

But self-control is a biblical word and is linked with other qualities. ‘ .... for God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control’ (2 Timothy 1.7, ESV). The danger with this verse is that it turns us all into super self-confident, all-conquering, problem-solvers who never put a foot wrong and never have a stressful day. I have never been like that and have often had days where I fail to love the people I work with because they’ve stitched me up or let me down. As for a ‘spirit of power’, I have had days where I feel completely impotent and unable to see a way forward.

The verse in Timothy is worth another look. It starts by reminding us that the ‘spirit’ we have is God-given. It is not something we have to drum up every morning. God gives us his spirit, which gives us his power, so we should not fear. I have met many youth ministers who fear the consequences of what they plan and do. Will it work? Will the parents moan? Will the old people dislike the youth ministry even more? Such feelings can paralyse people into a spirit of fear and we end up taking ultra-safe and wrong options or doing nothing. But God has not given us a spirit of fear because we serve an all-powerful and sovereign God who gives us something better.

Power, love and self-control

These three words could easily be what we long to be like for the coming year, but they are God-given — they are not self-generated. Power is not to be abused. Just because we serve an all powerful God, we do not ‘lord it over people’ (1 Peter 5.3), but by ‘being an example’. God gives us power to live our lives, so that people will see Christ in us, not so that they see how wonderful we are. God’s power is given for his glory, so it is given to us that we might help our young people see more of Jesus. But remember you have it. God does not want us to be impotent — he wants us to grow the kingdom.

But, in beautiful balance, he gives us a spirit of love. That means we can’t push our weight around, because we love the people we minister to. Surely love is the most abused word in our language, but that doesn’t mean we don’t work at brotherly and self-sacrificial love as God empowers us by his Spirit to love those we serve. This is how the church should be, and the youth group is not exempt. God empowers us to love the young people who come and the parents who gave them life. With all this power and love about, it’s amazing how easily fall-outs occur within our groups and churches. Maybe you could keep close to you a list of your young people and pray for them systematically (maybe some each day) and pray that ‘love will abound’.

But then there’s self-control. That applies to our moral behaviour and to the way we spend our time. ‘Going with the flow’ is what you often hear from youth ministers — perhaps striving to be the ultimate cool guy. But self-control implies we will use time wisely. Make sure your structure includes some leisure time, whether you’re married or single, but make sure your hours are well used. I have often found it helpful to break up a day’s work with something like two hours writing, a visit to the shop, then some admin. However you do it, don’t drift through a day without achieving anything. Bear in mind also that, in our work, sometimes a pastoral need will over-ride all our plans. But don’t respond to every demand, particularly if it can wait.

So, for 2013, let us be those who experience God’s wonderful provision of love, power and self-control. That’s how he wants you to be.

Dave Fenton is the Training Director of Root 66, which runs training courses for youth ministries across the UK.