Needing to be needed

Yes, we need each other.  Community in Christ is so important and no one needs to be a lone ranger Christian or leader.  But we can be a bit too needy...

"Tom" was a young youth pastor, fresh out of Bible college and considering seminary training in his near future.  He was plugged into the Methodist church near his college, volunteering with the students there for four years as a very active and positive presence.  As graduation drew near for Tom, the church leaders discussed among themselves the possibility of bringing him on staff to work with the students on a part-time basis.  When they presented the idea to Tom he was simply ecstatic.  He believed that God was calling him into student ministry and when this opportunity was offered to him it was very confirming.  Add to that the fact that Tom had already established a healthy relationship with these students and their parents, this position could not have appeared any more perfect for him.

Tom quickly realized that there was a huge difference between serving as a volunteer and actually being a staff member.  Accountability was now more profound than ever.  He found himself in   weekly staff meetings where he was asked about not just his vision for the student ministry but his leadership skills were on open display for all to evaluate.  Thankfully, the staff at the Methodist church understood that Tom was just getting started in this season of his ministry so they were more than willing to gently guide him into his new role of leadership.  Planning Bible studies and student events along with submitting a yearly budget and recruiting and training leaders was a new experience for Tom, but he was slowly and effectively getting the hang of it.

If only his personal approach to ministry was that clean and easy.

Organizationally, the student ministry was clicking along just fine.  However, Tom struggled to define his role within the ministry that God had given to him.  Even though he was just several years older than most of the ones in the group, he found himself being consumed with how the students perceived and even accepted him on a personal level.  When it was time for the weekly Wednesday Bible study, Tom would mingle throughout the room as the students trickled in in an effort to make small talk and catch up on their lives.  He would scan the gathering of students as he led Bible study in an attempt to discern if they were taking in what he was trying to teach them.  As the evenings would draw to a close, he would make one last effort to connect with them on a personal level, promising to come to their games or to take them out to eat after school.  All of this seems well and good, but Tom allowed his identity to be defined by these moments.  "Do the students like me?" was a question that he incessantly asked himself.

The problem began to escalate beyond the walls of the church.  Tom found himself constantly trolling the pages of Facebook, checking in on his students' pages to see what they were saying about him and the youth ministry at the church or if they were even saying anything at all.  When the weekends rolled around he would head to the local high school football field or gym and search for his students, hoping to hang out with them during the games and maybe even go get food with them afterwards.  If his students were already involved with their school friends or had other plans, Tom would feel depressed and begin to have doubts about his ministry and his ability to lead.  When a school religious group that some of his students were leaders in had a function and Tom wasn't told about or even invited to attend, his anxiety would spiral down even farther.  How could he lead a group of students if he wasn't even sure if they liked him as a person?

Of course Tom truly had no idea how the students perceived him on a personal level based upon all of these things, but his obsession with needing to be needed and accepted by this group of students was unhealthy and counter productive at best.  Some of you reading this may be thinking, "This guy is a nut job!  I would never seek that kind of acceptance by other people that I work with, much less from a bunch of kids."

Oh really?

I believe that all too often we are driven by whether or not we think others need us.  It doesn't matter if you are in a ministry position or work in the business, teaching, or medical fields, all of us at one time or the other have at least been a little obsessive at some point in our lives with being needed.  And how about parents?  You've seen it just like I have - parents who have their identities wrapped up in their kids, bending over backwards to accommodate every need that they could possibly have.  That's why the "family taxi cab" runs non-stop to every game/event/outing.  Your identity can become inseparable from that of your kids or your job.

We all need to be needed but how far are we willing to take it?  How - or rather in whom - do we define our identity?  Are you okay with not always knowing, much less caring, what people think about you?  If you have any sort of calling on your life - whether it is to be a minister, parent, teacher, coach, or businessman - then please know that you are not called to please the people that you serve.  Rather, your supreme calling is to please and honor the Lord.
For am I now trying to win the favor of people people, or God? Or am I still trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men. (Colossians 3:23)
You certainly don't want to be an inconsiderate jerk or come across as callous or cold, but you also can't succumb to the temptation to please everyone.   Because you can't.  And, not everyone will need or want you like you want them to.  I spent my fair share of time in ministry agonizing over whether or not I thought the students I served liked me or wanted me around, but I eventually go over that. 

The question that consumes you cannot be, "Am I needed?"  Instead, ask yourself questions like these:
Am I being faithful to my calling?
Am I pursuing holiness?
Do I care more about  my relationship with Christ than with my relationship with others?
We need each other.  And it's nice to be needed by those that we serve.  But spiritual codependency won't cut it for long if we are truly striving to pour out our everything for God.

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