“I was incredibly frustrated with how things were going. And you know what? I realized I was allowed to be frustrated. After all, who wouldn’t be? But the ministry I talked about in my post was still getting done, and in the middle of all that frustration God reminded me that I can’t give up. Galatians 6:9 says, ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’”
The middle of a global pandemic is the ideal time to start a new ministry, right?
I showed up at Emmanuel Church in West Kelowna, B.C., at the beginning of July 2020. Things were just starting to open up a little bit, groups could meet in gatherings of 50 or less, and my job was to restart the youth group. The last time it had met was in mid-March, shortly before COVID had shut everything down and when their last youth pastor stepped out of his role. Contact info for students or families was hard to find; I inherited very little from the previous group. Basically, we were starting over.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I had no clue what I was doing. That first week I sat at my desk staring at the wall and thinking, What do I do? The normal steps I would take, like meeting people at church on Sundays, inviting students or youth leaders to my place for a BBQ, or even getting to know them at the youth nights they were used to, were not options thanks to 2020’s greatest gift—the pandemic. I was rewriting my playbook. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t even know where to begin.
Slowly things began to take shape. I started meeting with the people who would eventually become my youth leaders. I went page by page through the church directory and sent an email to every family that had kids in their photo. Once I figured out who our youth families were, I sent them a survey asking what they wanted for their kids, from the group and from me. I spent hours in prayer and dreaming about where God wanted to take the group. Through prayer and conversations with leaders, I developed a mission statement and a vision for the group. I managed to put together a physically distanced BBQ for students and families to attend so I could introduce myself. And finally, with a leadership team in place and some knowledge of who would come, we held our youth fall kickoff: a colour war, where our students ran around throwing powdered paint on each other in between scarfing down slices of pizza. It’s what I might call a youth ministry classic.
I did my very best to hit the ground running. I had sermon series and big events planned, and eventually we even launched our small groups (or our squads, as we call them). Over the span of a couple months, we found our core of about 40 students—15 in high school and 25 in middle school—and started building relationships with them. By any measure things were going well, and we were up and running. I had worked so hard for things to go well.
And then, in November, the B.C. government made the announcement that we were shutting down again—no more in-person gatherings until further notice. And with that, any momentum I felt we had was totally gone. All that hard work had been made completely useless.
For a while I sat in anger, feeling sorry for myself. I would even say I was angry at God. I didn’t understand why God would bring me here if He was going to allow all these obstacles to get in the way of His ministry. What was the point? By the time we had our first online youth night and only one student showed up, I was ready to quit.
Then one day, as I was scrolling through my Instagram page looking for an old photo, I came across a post I made in April, back when the COVID restrictions were still new. It was a photo of me running a youth night on Zoom with my old group: me sitting on my couch with my wife and my notebook beside me. The post went something like this:
Ministry has changed. Except it hasn’t really.
This is never what I thought youth ministry would look like: sitting on my couch, my wife and my notebook next to me (covered in blankets), and 13 other screens looking back at me.
Yet it’s everything I dreamed of. A night to connect with some of my favourite people. Getting to play games and have fun together. Getting to share Jesus with the students I care so much about.
The way we do ministry has changed. The ministry hasn’t. At the end of the day, all I want is to connect with these guys and connect them with Jesus. And thanks to technology, I can. I love these people. I love my job.
When I reread this post, it made me think about how I’d been feeling. Mostly, it was frustration. How could I carry on the ministry I talked about in that post when I can’t even gather students I’ve just met? I don’t have the relationship with these students that I had with the ones in my old group, so I couldn’t seem to get them to connect with me online. If I couldn’t do that, then how could I do my ministry?
But then I thought about the one student who did join the call. We played games and talked, and she by default won the prize I was going to give away, so I saw her again the next day when I delivered it to her home. Did the time and effort to hang out with her and take her a prize still show her Jesus? Did she feel loved? What about the Grade 9 boys who won a pizza on our Instagram? When I went to deliver it to them, and then stopped and had a five-minute conversation, did that show them I cared? What about the ones who messaged me saying thanks for the bag of chips in the care package we took to them, and that they were glad to see me? Is that connecting? Is that telling students I’m there for them and I care for them? Is that showing them they’re loved? Is that showing them Jesus?
The answer to all these questions is yes.
I was incredibly frustrated with how things were going. And you know what? I realized I was allowed to be frustrated. After all, who wouldn’t be? But the ministry I talked about in my post was still getting done, and in the middle of all that frustration God reminded me that I can’t give up. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Even if it was one at a time, I was connecting, I was showing Jesus, and I was doing good. My method has become something completely different, but the ministry is still the same, and the harvest is coming on the horizon. I just can’t give up.
My ministry is not about having the best youth night or online service. I don’t think it’s about getting every single student to join our events either. I don’t even think that ministry is about drilling the gospel into their heads when they do join. No, in this world of isolation, shutdowns and uncertainty, I think ministry is about being available, showing my students I care, and loving them like Jesus would. Sometimes doing that is as simple as dropping off a pizza.
So, if you’re a pastor who’s exhausted, out of ideas, and feeling like ministry isn’t getting done, take heart. Our ministry is not about having the most views, or even recreating what church once was. The method has changed, but ministry hasn’t—and that ministry is simply to love and be available for people like Jesus was. Even if “people” is really only one person. If we don’t give up, all our hard work will result in the harvest that is coming.
Caleb Bloch is 23 years old and lives in West Kelowna, B.C., with his wife, Meghan, where he currently serves as the youth pastor at Emmanuel Church. His favourite thing about ministry is the people, and he can’t wait to return to in-person gatherings.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos courtesy Caleb Bloch.