During a particularly difficult week last year, the following maxim occurred to me: To be a youth pastor is to experience rejection. It wasn’t during the worst week I’ve ever had on the job, and I don’t remember now what was happening at the time that made me feel that way. Still, for whatever reason, in that moment this truth struck me with greater clarity than it ever had before. As a youth pastor, I have had to become familiar with rejection.

Perhaps I should have known it during my very first week on the job when a parent called and took me to task for a decision I had made with which she disagreed. (So much for the honeymoon phase…) Or perhaps I should have known when students from our group started hearing from their friends that our youth group was a cult. These two events happened during my first few months.

Granted, there are other professions that require workers to experience more rejection—particularly actors and people in sales often hear, “We’re not interested.” In spite of the rejection, I will say that to be a youth pastor also is to experience unrivaled joy and satisfaction. We get to walk with students and their families through some pretty great highs and victories. I wouldn’t change my job for anything. (OK, maybe if a spot in U2 opened or if the Cubs were looking for a middle reliever, but that’s it.)

Let’s be honest: If the worst thing that happens to me in my job is that some parents are upset with me or a few teenagers don’t want to have anything to do with me, it’s not as if I’ve earned entrance into the Hall of Faith. I’m not being sawed in two. I’m not being burned in hot oil. However, it’s important that we understand what we’re signing up for when we enter ministry of any kind—especially youth ministry. Students are going to let us down. They are going to flake out after making promises to do certain things. The students you have so much hope for as they head off to college will return with their faith in shambles. You are going to spend some of your time inviting students to events in which they have no interest. Those events you pour yourself into will not go the way you planned. Rooms we were hoping would be full will be empty. Leaders will drop the ball, including when they know we’re counting on them. It will be easy for us to take these things personally. We’ll be lied to, laughed at, left out and forgotten.

If you were expecting something else, you probably should consider a different profession. It is par for the course, a when and not an if.

Guess who knows exactly how this feels? Yes, Him. Jesus, the Guy who was despised and rejected by men, a Man of suffering and familiar with pain.

In some ways, we know we’re on the right path if we’re experiencing some of the things He experienced. He told us to expect these things: “If they hate you…”
Rejection is an opportunity to lean more deeply into God’s grace. It may be an opportunity to do things differently than we’ve been doing them, as well as a reminder that we’re in the right jobs.

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About The Author

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has worked as a pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in Illinois since 1998. He writes a column for Youthworker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and enjoys acting in the occasional play. He believes with all of his heart that the Cubs will one day win the World Series, and he and his wife Heidi have four kids.

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