Several years ago, I was struggling desperately in my personal life. Depression had clouded every aspect of my life, making it difficult to do normal daily tasks, let alone lead a group of students. Growing up, I wasn’t taught how to properly deal with my own struggles in a public setting. I mean, there really wasn’t a need. On the contrary, problems were dealt with internally. However, when we take a position of leadership in ministry, so much of what we do is on display, for better or worse, for eyes to see. So, when I realized how deep my depression was, I had a choice to make. Either I would address it or pretend like it wasn’t there.
I chose to pretend like it wasn’t there.
Unfortunately, when we’re struggling internally, it always has a way of making its way to the surface. As much as I attempted to mask the feelings of brokenness going on in my soul, I couldn’t hide it. Everyone knew something was going on – including my middle school students.
Quickly, I had adult volunteers coming to me out of deep concern, wondering if I was okay. I realized that there was no way of truly covering up the internal mess, so I decided to come clean with a group of close leaders. No one pressured me to share my story, but I started talking with them about where I was at emotionally, and I soon began to become aware that I wasn’t the only one struggling with similar feelings. Adult after adult began coming to me with their own story of depression. I started wondering why I was hiding it so hard to begin with.
Soon, I decided I needed to be honest with our students. I, their leader, shared my own story of pain and hurt. I wasn’t sure how it would be taken. When I finished sharing, I was shocked at the line of middle school students waiting to talk with me after I was done – all of them with their own story of depression. My willingness to be vulnerable about my own self sparked something that was desperately needed. Even parents started reaching out to me about the feelings inside of them!
Often, we create our ministry environments with the thought that we have to look or be a certain way from a leadership perspective. However, what I learned is that the best thing we can do with our leadership is live life authentically, vulnerably, and honestly in front of people – including students! Students need examples of how to live out the same things they’re processing and dealing with, and if we aren’t willing to live it out for them, how else will they learn?
– Ryan Schmall
- Are you leading vulnerably?
- What would it look like to get vulnerable in your middle school ministry?
- What students would be deeply impacted by your willingness to share your brokenness first?