Maybe that’s unfair. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is stupid. He’s actually the exact opposite. I’m sure he’s a good person and I enjoy Jessie Eisenberg and Facebook (except the dumb requests I get 7 times an hour to play Candy Crush or “like” that page on defending the rights of dandelions).
The issue (for me) with Mark Zuckerberg’s story is that he became wildly successful at a very young age. And he’s not the only person to accomplish major success during their teen years or 20’s. People like Jennifer Lawrence, Lucy Li, Jaden Smith, Justin Bieber, Francisco Molinari, Taylor Swift, Tiger Woods, Miley Cyrus, the Olson Twins, the guys who sold YouTube, those random homeschooled kids who graduate college when they’re 12, or Macaulay Culkin in Richie Rich all come to mind as well.
There are a so many young men and women around the world who strike it rich or famous (or both) during puberty or before they can legally drink. And it’s great! Our culture (appropriately) celebrates these people and their accomplishments by further expanding the attention put on them simply because of what they’ve done for their age.
The problem I see (and have experienced) with this, is that it puts a subconscious pressure on me to think I have to be wildly successful when I’m young and if/when I don’t, I’ve failed.
And the Christian world isn’t immune to this either. I remember being at a Catalyst conference in Atlanta the first time Steven Furtick spoke and the way he was introduced was mostly focused on how remarkably gifted he was for such a young age. Of course, that ended up being true and his teaching was amazing, but in the back of my head there was a seed planted that continued to feed this presumption that the longer it took me to become “successful” (even in a Christian, ministry context), the worse I was doing.
I think the world we live in of 24 year old millionaires and 13 year old doctors has put an unrealistic and unhealthy subconscious expectation on our generation of what success is meant to look like.
When it comes to being a student pastor, there’s always the attraction to somehow (as soon as possible) reach the level of recognition that Craig Groeschell or John Ortberg has. (side note: I’m sure the level of fame men and women like them have attained comes with a massive list of difficulties that need to be wisely navigated through…so keep in mind the always true phrases: “Be Careful What You Wish For” and “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side”) But I wonder if this self-expectation is actually hurting our heart for ministry.
The more we long for fame, the more we miss the people right in front of us. The more we hope for riches, the more we miss the blessings right in front of us. The more we strive for worldly or even ministry success, the more we fail the day-t0-day ministry that’s been given to us.
What if God is most proud of all the student pastors out there who faithfully pour into the 5 students that come each week, not annoyed they haven’t grown to above the 10% average attendance of their church? I realize there’s something to be said for ministry growth and not being okay with a dying or unhealthy ministry. I definitely think it’s important to always be thinking about how to engage people and students who aren’t and reach the lost. But the heart of a person to genuinely minister to a few instead of be distracted by the lack of many is something I believe God truly loves.
For the tens of thousands of student pastors who have been blessed with leading a ministry of five or ten or 100 students, I believe their treasure in heaven is directly proportionate to their heart for those students, not necessarily the size of their group. I don’t think Jesus is going to be as concerned with numbers as much as He’s concerned with our hearts.
I remember some of my most joy-filled years of doing ministry was when I was leading a middle school group of about 150 students. I truly loved those students and my heart was so passionate about how to lead them more towards God. But the minute I would start thinking about my own personal gain or success, my discontent started edging out my heart for what God wanted to do right in front of me.
And the truth is that ministry leaders who experience massive success at the age of 25 is great but that’s not the expectation, that’s the exception. God isn’t expecting a global Church filled with Christian Justin Biebers (what a terrifying thought). In fact, I think He is more proud of the student pastor who humbly and passionately and wisely leads their group of 25 students every Wednesday night.
I’ve heard and seen people like Jon Acuff, Bob Buford and Robert Lewis talk about a super encouraging concept in regards to this as they’ve broken down the different stages of life. According to them:
Our 20’s are Learning
Our 30’s are Editing
Our 40’s are Mastering
Our 50’s are Harvesting
And our 60’s Guiding
I love this. It is such a freeing concept. According to this, the expectation to achieve “success” doesn’t really come until we’re in our 40’s! That means that it’s okay if we fail in our 20’s! It’s okay if we miss the mark or have to readjust or recalibrate in our 20’s or even 30’s! We have about half our life to get to a place where we’re finally hitting our stride. Up until that point, we’re still in the lab figuring it out!
So instead of feeling pressure to do or be something by a certain age or time, let’s feel the appropriate burden of whatever God has put right in front of us. If you’re leading a ministry of 1000 students, do it to the best of your ability and continue to grow and challenge yourself. if you’re leading a small group of 3 students, be the best gosh-darn leader of those students that you possibly can be. You might not make the cover of Relevant magazine, but someday I believe you’ll hear how proud God is of you, directly from Him.