Being a Disciple Before Being a Leader

As a staff member for a small parish, I find myself making numerous decisions throughout the year for the youth group almost completely on my own. Simply put, the youth ministry department isn’t big enough for more than one person yet. So, between curriculum planning, conferences, logistics, and youth events, I am the person that my pastor has entrusted to call the shots and make the plans for all of these things.

Even working with less than 50 teens, I find myself consistently stressed about the details, the little things that beg to be answered by me before a deadline. I have teens that look up to me and ask me questions about the faith that they may not be comfortable asking their parents. So, I journey with them. I plan for them. I work for them.

But in December, I realized how burnt out I was starting to feel, how alone I felt in my ministry. This devolved into a question, an important question: Am I even made to be a leader?

The answer?

No. I am not made to be a leader.

But here are some things I am called to be and do:

1) BE: Salt of the Earth
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses it’s taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”– Matthew 5:13

Ministry is exhausting and most ministers are caregivers who give of themselves. This metaphor tells us that we cannot lose who we are to our ministry. In the time period this was written, salt was known as a preservative. As Christians, we are called to preserve the world from decay—but we cannot do that if we ourselves are decaying.

2) BE: Light
“Take care then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be full of light illuminating you with it’s brightness.” – Luke 11: 35 -36

The call to be light and to live in the light is reverberated throughout the bible. In fact the previous verse from Matthew continues on to say that we are “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). We are called to be a part of the light, to be children of the Light. Our ministry can’t be overrun by the darkness and we cannot be overwhelmed by our worries.

We avoid darkness by doing two things:

3) DO: Rejoice Always. Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 -17 contains only these words. Five words that have the power to completely change the face of our ministry. When we turn to prayer, we are inviting Christ into our ministry. This is so much easier said than done but it is necessary to avoid feeling burnt out and alone. Christ is our guide and the Holy Spirit is our advisor. How could we ever feel alone in our ministry if we recognize who we are doing our ministry with? The Creator of the Universe wants to help us, wants to give to us. He wants us to rejoice. Pope Benedict XVI called upon Christ and said, “Lord, make us Easter people, men and women of light.”
Prayer increases our awareness of the reality that our divine Father wants to be with us. We can’t do our ministry by ourselves and through prayer, we don’t have to. Prayer allows us to return to the reality of our discipleship. Christ did not call leaders. He called people like you and me and God equipped them to do His ministry.

4) DO: Follow Christ.
“[Jesus] said to them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once, they left their nets and followed Him.” – Matthew 4:19

Christ asked the disciples to follow Him. He did not ask them to lead people. Yes, he sent them out on missions, but his first question to them was for them to follow Him. We are not leaders. We are disciples. Our discipleship takes precedence to our ministry. Our personal prayer life, how we are following Christ’s call, takes precedence to our ministry. It is more important for us to follow Christ than it is for us to lead others and the reality is: we cannot lead others where we ourselves are not going. If we are not following Christ, we cannot be ministers.

If you are feeling discouraged, if you are feeling alone, if you are feeling stressed and burnt out, I invite you to come to Christ. His grace is for you too, not just those you minister to. He invites you always, asking you to follow Him. You are salt. You are light. You are a follower of Christ.

Marie Benavides

Marie Benavides is a daughter of God and a Catholic lay minister in the Diocese of Fort Worth. She has a BA in English Literature from St. Edward’s University and a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas. She works to empower teens and simplify the teachings of the Catholic Church through theological reflection.

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