Originally posted on AwanaYM Blog

A few nights ago, I was sitting in my favorite spot—on a stool at the island of my kitchen—preparing for class the next morning. This semester’s group of students has been particularity challenging. Although every group has its own unique dynamics and challenges, this group has me, at times, wondering if I am making a difference at all in the lives of these students. If you have spent any time in youth ministry, you have had moments wondering the same thing with a group or two of students, you have ministered to. They’re great kids, but you just worry that something is not connecting. In these moments, you can’t always put your finger on it, but you know it’s there. Which, if you are anything like me creates all kinds of internal chaos in my heart and soul. I agonize over every little detail; looking for any possible way I can connect and provide some assurance that my efforts are helping them deepen their relationship with Christ.

To be totally transparent, in these moments, my usual routine is to lament to my wife. And if I am not careful I’ll wander down an unhealthy road and believe the lie that I am never effective and that I never connect with my students—even more so this time of year. It has been a long year of ministry. We are all tired. Many months of pouring into the lives of others can easily drain us, leaving us vulnerable and looking for a strong finish to end the school year.

If you have ever experienced something similar, read on.

Yet in these moments of vulnerability and doubt, God always seems to provide much-needed encouragement. Mine came—as I continued to pound away preparing for the next morning—via an unexpected note on Facebook.

Just wanted to send you a message and thank you. I was praying today and remembered a time when you spoke life into my class and told us that we had the potential to change the culture of our environment. I think that was one of the very few times that I had someone tell me how powerful my faith was and it has been something that has encouraged me to walk boldly in my faith and in my kingdom identity! So thank you! You changed my life!!

I couldn’t tell you what I said that was so profound—if profound at all. I would have to dig deep into my old files to even see what exactly I was teaching on in those days. I don’t recall an angelic memorable moment. No life-transforming experience—at least not at that moment. Because it was not so much what I said, but the relational context built around everything I taught.

I am sure that many of you have had similar notes from past students. And I am sure that many of your experiences, like mine, don’t come from a single life-changing moment, but from the meticulous building of the personal relationships created over time. It’s dialogue over monologue. Listening over lecturing. Preaching the Word teaches, but fostering relationships and community with students builds character—the kind of character that changes lives. It is living out the monologue from the main stage in the dialogue of community.

A close friend and former colleague of mine was a master of odd phrases—the kind you never forget. He used to constantly remind students to “walk it out.” The phrase drove us all crazy, because not only would he say it incessantly but randomly place shoes throughout the building as a physical reminder. He used them as decorations, planters, even a trophy at one point featured shoes as the base.

Annoying? Yes. But, rarely did his words remind students of their call to follow in the steps of Jesus and live out their faith in real and tangible ways as much as the actual shoes did. Shoes created dialogue and strangely promoted community. It created an environment that cultivated learning where students could immerse themselves in God’s narrative and engage them in a future-oriented living. It helped them find ways to connect their story with God’s. Your presence on the main stage, eloquently waxing the truth of God’s word will no doubt successfully pass information on to students, but learning takes place when those truths filter their way into the lives of the students, and you help them live through dialogue and community.

Whether it is something you said, an example you gave, or you have an odd way of using apparel for both object lesson and decorative flare around your church or school—students remember those things because of the dialogue formed around it.

Spring is here, and for most of you in ministry, that means that time of year when seniors graduate. The time of year when we send students off wondering if we did everything we could. We wonder if they are truly ready. Did anything you said or did deeply impact them, grow their spiritual journey, challenge their relationship with Jesus? If you are like me, you might spend a little too much time wondering if you made a difference at all.

You did.

Trust me, you did.

If you spend any time fostering relationships, building positive dialogue with your students, and finding unique ways to build community; then you made a difference.

If you spent time digging into the Word, trusting the Spirit of God to guide you and sought creative ways to relay your message into the lives of your students; then you impacted their lives.

No matter how long you have ministered to students, we all tell ourselves that even though we may never see the results, we impact lives. We tell ourselves that we will get to see the sum total of our life’s work on the other side of eternity. However, we also know that it fuels us to hear that we are making a difference now. It helps to hear from a former student to remind us why we were called to this path. Finishing well is that much easier when God gives us a glimpse of a job well done.

So whether you are sprinting across the finishing line of this ministry year, or crawling; rest in knowing that you have made a difference in the lives of many. Your teaching will have a lasting impact.

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