Perhaps I’d read too many missionary biographies. I’d pictured myself as a trail-blazing pioneer of student work, reaching the unreached with the gospel of Christ. The reality was far less romantic. No conversions, no miracles, no revival. Days of apparent fruitlessness turned into weeks and months of discouragement. I didn’t know what to write in my prayer letters. Six months in and I’d had enough. I was weary of walking this lonely road of student ministry.
Sadly, this kind of experience is common for young staff starting out in student ministry. That’s why the IFES Europe Young Staff Network (YSN) exists. Heledd works with YSN, supporting the young staff of IFES movements across the region. She shared her reflections on this vital ministry.
One of the biggest challenges young staff face is finding their value in Christ, rather than in what they do. When their churches and friends are giving money to support the work, they can feel a huge amount of pressure to show that the investment is worth it. But ministry is slower work than they’d expected. Much of what is going on is unseen and the fruit might not be apparent until years down the line. It’s tempting to project a false outward image to impress others. Living that double life is exhausting.
For others, the big challenge is the loneliness and isolation. In the smaller movements they might have very few co-workers, or perhaps none at all. They spend a lot of time travelling between campuses and cities, working on their own. Learning how to set goals, how to prioritise and how to make strategic decisions is difficult. IFES work is deeply relational and tends to attract people who are very relational – so having a lot of time alone can be an unexpected challenge for them.
A lifeline for young staff
Many of these problems are inevitable challenges, but the Young Staff Network seeks to equip young staff to survive and even thrive through the challenging early years of ministry. The YSN provides a learning community for young staff to join. It’s a place where they can build relationships with peers, share their struggles and learn together what faithful ministry looks like.
Each cohort meets together three or four times during their first year of ministry. In addition, they are all assigned a mentor who meets with them monthly on Skype. The YSN also provides training and a study program to help young staff lay good biblical foundations for their ministry.
We are seeing staff staying longer in IFES now. Five YSN graduates have become general secretaries in their national movements. Many others are still active in leadership and are passing on what they’ve learned through YSN to others in their local contexts. There have been many encouragements, but Goda’s story, a young staff worker from LKSB Lithuania, particularly stood out:
After I became a Christian, I saw in the Bible that disciples go to places which need the gospel. That motivated me to join LKSB as a staff worker, as they had a huge need for more staff. But it was a tough first year. I struggled to raise any money at all for my ministry. It was a very stressful period and raised many questions. Why am I here? What’s going to happen to LKSB? How can we keep going without money?
Joining YSN and meeting others in the same position was a huge encouragement. The teaching and conversations helped me to rethink fundraising. Three days after returning home, people had donated enough money to support me for seven months. God had done a miracle.
Give today to support the Young Staff Network and help more people like Goda keep going in student ministry.