I recently announced a vocational shift from full time student pastor and part time everything else to full time Executive Director. In that initial announcement, I sort of glossed over two enormous implications that I’ve been grieving: leaving the staff of Current – A Christian Church as well as saying goodbye to my almost two decade long youth ministry career. I’ll save my gratitude for Current for another time. I wanted to reflect on my youth ministry career because, well,
I’ve got so much more to say.
It is impossible to summarize my appreciation to the youth ministry tribe, with whom I’ve spent the last 18 years of my life, in a single, silly blog post. It kind of feels like someone who’s won an award and before they get a chance to thank everyone that deserves to be thanked, the orchestra starts playing because the network needs to cut to commercial. Seriously…how do you boil down half your life to 800 words or so? How do you tell the story of so many individuals and groups who enriched your life?
- Mom & Dad…I mean, whatever good I’ve done is just because of you
- Rod and Jan, for mentoring me and telling me I needed to be in vocational ministry
- Rock Garden, for being the place I discovered myself
- First Christian Church in Salem, for raising me and then hiring me
- Shan for calling me out of the woods to try something different
- Lucas, for being my first youth ministry partner
- The fine folks in Moweaqua, Illinois…I was so young, and you were so patient
- Chris & Chris…you have so much in common, not the least of which is you had to put up with me
- All the parents of students over the years…hundreds of families…treasured relationships
- All the volunteers…we went to war together, and it was worth it
- My strong, smart, sassy wife…you kept me on the straight and narrow, focusing on the right things. What a partnership.
I mean, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Can a calling be reduced to bullet points?
I’ve got so much more to say.
My first youth ministry was in my home church when I was — well — still a youth. I accidentally, kind of, almost set a kids hair on fire. I taught poorly. I didn’t know what I was doing. They paid me anyway and turned me loose.
My first internship was at a large suburban church where I worked with college kids and did whatever else the youth minister told me to do. I made a bunch of mistakes. I met a girl. I grew up a little.
My first ministry of “my own” was in a tiny town in Central Illinois. I had a baby. I was a baby. I worked too much. I made too little. But gosh, I miss those days.
I returned to the church where I interned and I grew up fast. I functioned (mostly) as an adult. I had another kid. I got better at everything. I figured out how to do ministry with a team, and I did it with people I really loved. I preached in (only) a towel once. I argued with my bosses. I left mad.
I found a church that matched my DNA. I worked like a dog. I built something meaningful with a team that was phenomenal. I saw a church experience explosive growth. I knew my youth ministry clock was ticking. I took my foot off the gas. I soaked it up as much as I could. My daughter aged in to our youth group. I lost hair. I felt old. I resigned.
And just like that, in five paragraphs, a youth ministry career — 1999 – 2017. If my youth ministry life had a eulogy, what would it be? It’s a silly, self-centered thought, but I admit I’ve been thinking it. I don’t know how it would go, but I know that if I had the chance to write it, I’d include:
- The time I almost accidentally kissed a girl in my youth group playing a stupid game (that I certainly did not organize) where we had to chomp our way to the middle of banana as a part of a relay race.
- The first kid I ever baptized. It was in a pond at a church camp in Illinois.
- My eyes hot with tears, staring out the window at a grain elevator in Moweaqua, realizing it was time to leave.
- Watching a teenager give her child up for adoption, handing it over to another couple in our church.
- Firing a volunteer for the first time and feeling relieved after having done so.
- My eyes hot with tears, sitting on my futon in the basement in Florissant, so disappointed that I had to leave.
- Comforting a kid at a conference — a kid who’d been all but abandon in his childhood by a drug addict mother but remains one of the two or three nicest kids I’ve ever met, totally sold out to Jesus.
And no matter how many stories I told or how long the eulogy went — with the small group stories and preaching stories and leadership stories and parent stories and volunteer stories and trip stories and everything else — when I got done I know what my last line would be.
“I’ve got much more to say.”
And it’s looking back on all this that I realize (this may seem over dramatic, but I’m realizing it nonetheless) that I’m not dying, I’m just changing jobs. No eulogy needed. I’m going to get to say what I still have to say. I’m not “leaving ministry.” I’m still on the same team, just playing a different position.
And I’m excited about it.
But I’m grieving the loss of something important to me. Something I love. Something I’ll still get to rub up against vocationally, but it won’t be the same. There isn’t anything like student ministry. It’s something special. Something in a category all it’s own.
If we shared in it, thank you. When I think of my career working with students, it’s your faces that come to mind, and so I don’t leave with regret.
I move on not sad, but satisfied. And with much more to say.