In his youth ministry workshop on Wednesday morning, Josh Jones of Breesport (New York) Baptist Church asked a question that can be transformative to any ministry: Are we frustrated by the obstacles we face, or are we burdened for the spiritual needs the obstacles bring to light? Another way to put it is this: “The journey from obstacles to opportunities begins with a burden.”
Jones led the workshop through the account of Nehemiah, who demonstrated the power of a burden. He heard about Jerusalem’s plight (Nehemiah 1), but he didn’t become frustrated and upset. Instead, he showed faith in God by praying and fasting. Nehemiah faced many obstacles: he was a Jew living in exile and serving a pagan king and was dependent on others for resources. Meanwhile his homeland lay in ruins. After Nehemiah reached Jerusalem, he had to deal with a limited amount of time, much work to do, opposition from both without and within, his own people’s fear, and their spiritual needs. To top it off, his résumé might not have seemed adequate for the job. After all, he was a cupbearer, not a wall builder or carpenter. But what he did have was a burden.

Why could Nehemiah keep from being frustrated? His view of God. Nehemiah depended upon God while taking all the action he could. The Jews built the wall of Jerusalem with great speed and effectiveness despite all the obstacles. The result was great dismay among their enemies, because they knew that only God could have done something like that.

Today the list of obstacles we may face in youth ministry is very long. It might include budget or facilities or location. It could include the youth minister’s experience (or lack thereof). It could include the church’s traditions or the students themselves. Or the obstacles could be closer to home—the youth minister’s spouse or children or even himself.

The answer to all these goes deeper than the problems themselves. It rests in valuing what God values. God values godliness over effectiveness, Jones emphasized. God sometimes leads us through many obstacles that seem to be tripping up our effectiveness because He is trying to lead us to a better relationship with Him. Jones also asked this question, “If all God wanted in our problems is to drive us to a deeper relationship with Him, would that be okay?” That may make the difference in whether obstacles are simply frustrations, or whether they become doorways into a greater display of God’s power in our lives and ministries.