The Space Between Discouragement and Hopelessness

By Doug Franklin August 10, 2020

There is a difference between discouragement and hopelessness, and the difference could save your youth ministry career.

discouraged vs. hopeless

I meet lots of youth pastors who say they are discouraged and some who say they feel like ministry is hopeless. These youth workers tend to think they are in the same place, but they are not.

Discouraged youth workers are in a season of pain. Expectations have been missed, and there is a sense of wasted opportunity and tiredness. While they currently see no light at the end of the tunnel, they know in their heart that there is an end to this season, and they look forward to its coming.

Youth workers who believe that ministry has become hopeless have lost their vision, desire, and energy to do the messy work of helping a student transform. There are no expectations or opportunities; they dream of doing something different.

These words—discouraged and hopeless—can produce the same emotion, but let’s not get them confused. If you are in a season of pain, ask yourself: is this discouragement or hopelessness? The answer is the pathway out of the season.

moving beyond discouragement

For those that answered discouragement, let’s make a plan to move forward.

1. count your wins

Start with making a list of all the wins you have had in ministry over the past month. Ask God to show you what he is doing in you and through you. Keep this list close by and look at it when you feel low.

2. find a mentor

Get a mentor, someone you trust and can be completely honest with. Ask them to meet with you just five times (low commitment will open up more people to you). Let them ask you questions, have them share with you what they see happening, and allow them to challenge your behaviors and attitudes.

3. try something new

Plan new activities and events that you have never led before. “New” is good medicine. It’s risky and keeps us on our toes. Ask a few student leaders to lead these new initiatives with you. You will be surprised how “new” can break you out of a funk.

working through hopelessness

For those that feel hopeless, my heart breaks for you. My prayer is that God is leading you in a new direction and that he is planning great things for you.

Let’s make a plan to help you transition.

1. find a guide

Get a guide, someone who can help you navigate the waters of transition and who knows how to advise you on how to end strong and start fresh. Ending strong is so important to you for many reasons: you gave your word, you want a recommendation, and you represent your King to students, who are watching your every move and making decisions about who God is based on your actions.    

I have also noticed over the years that youth workers who end well repair an emotional pain. You wanted the job to be great—you wanted students to love God and each other—but for some reason it didn’t happen. That’s okay, finish strong and let God lead the church in a new direction.

2. look for a career coach

Seek a career coach, someone who can help you find what you love to do and what you can make a living at. You may stay in the church or go elsewhere but get some help in this process if you don’t know what you want.

3. rediscover your passions

Follow your passion. Most likely the ministry has sucked the passion from you and a 9 to 5 job is not going to bring you life. Make sure you don’t just move from one hopeless job to another.

the space between discouragement and hopelessness

So, what if you have been discouraged for a long time and you feel like you’re sliding toward hopelessness? You’re in that space between discouraged and hopeless.

First follow the steps I suggest in discouragement to see if that will pull you out.

Also, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are there students in my youth group who I’d say I am truly worried about their spiritual lives?
  2. Why did I originally get into youth ministry and can I fulfill that mission here at this church?
  3. Do I have community (outside the youth ministry) and does my community know what I am going through? (Many youth workers who are going through this have little community, and it’s a big problem.)

The answers to these questions should give you an indication of how you are feeling about your job and should point you in a direction. If you still feel burdened by students’ spiritual lives, you are most likely in discouragement. If you are not burdened by students’ spiritual lives, it’s time to transition. If your feelings go way deeper on hopelessness, please consider seeing a counselor.

As a youth worker, I have gone through a few of these seasons. My encouragement to you is to get a friend, mentor, or guide to help you navigate this time. My prayer for you is that God may meet you in this season and see you through to the other side.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More