I have been wanting to write this blog for a while but there are some very strong emotions behind it. I think I have gone through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The truth is that I could write a book about all my experiences and I have a fear that everything I have to say will be taken the wrong way or feel detatched. My hope is that this post will be both cathartic and celebratory.
I began serving in youth ministry when I was eighteen and a freshman in college. I first felt a call to ministry when I became a Christian and soon believed I was going to be a youth pastor. My youth pastor (and personal hero) took me under his wings and gave me a lot of wisdom and strength.
I entered college pursuing a degree in youth ministry and quickly got involved in a large youth ministry in town. I served there for a year doing whatever I could to help. I learned a lot and stepped out to become a youth minister in the fall of my sophomore year.
I remember that first church and some of the kids that attended. As a matter of fact I still have a follow-up post-it in my Bible of a kid that attended. While I was at that church I got my first taste of what it could be like to lead a youth group and I liked it. I loved seeing students go from being apathetic or hostile towards Christianity to becoming curious to eventually growing Christians.
Through fifteen years I have served in various capacities in youth ministry from leading breakfast Bible clubs,volunteer, internships, co-youth leader and full-time ministry. My ministry has spanned from west Tennessee to east Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana. I have served in rural, inner-city and suburban churches. They have all had their unique ups and downs. The experiences I have had have shaped me into a better person and minister.
I have been on innumerable overnight trips, have heard the same fart jokes over and over, been to dozens of concerts, stayed up at all-nighters, created a night club, organized a rap festival, gone on ski-trips, lead small groups, worn make up and dresses, licked peanut butter off of a friends foot, swallowed goldfish (live), introduced "Ramone" to hundreds of kids, served on mission trips,lead fifth quarters,brought students to summer camps, disciple nows, have lived on pizza and mountain dews, dove off of bridges, gone through muddy caves, rapelled off of cliffs, snow skied, water skied, camped, hiked, lead worship, played paintball and laser tag. I have been with students and families in their darkest hours, have heard students talk about suicide, cutting, running away, problems with parents and friends, drugs and sex. I have seen students at the point of desperation and turn to God. I have seen God grab hold of a student that everyone else had written off and change their life. Youth ministry is heart-wrenching, usually thankless and often times a labyrinth of politics. But, it can also be rewarding, fun, and life changing.
My time serving as a youth pastor ended without much fanfare. As a matter of fact it ended on a night when not many students were present. There were times throughout that last night when the enormity of the moment would overwhelm me as I thought of the lives I have been a part of over the years. The joys, laughter, stories that will be told for years to come, tears, silence, prayers and friendships. Even as I write this I think of the impact student ministry has had on me.
I did not leave this calling lightly. I did not leave it because I was tired of it or had lost my passion for it. I left because I feel a burden from God for the lost and unchurched in the Northwest Hendricks County area. I believe God is leading me in a new and exciting direction and has a wonderful plan for our lives. Karin asked me on my first Sunday night without youth group if I was happy to not have it. I responded by saying that I loved youth group and being with the students. The question was not the right one. Am I happy to be following God's will and am I excited about the road ahead? Yes. But, I am sad to be leaving students and families that I have poured my life into for almost four years. Outside of college I have never been a part of a community for so long.
To everyone that has served with me, allowed me to be their youth pastor or their student's youth pastor, or has supported my ministry over the years in any number of ways (from being chaperones, volunteers, cheerleaders, providing meals, scholarships and general encouragement)- thank you. It is humbling to think of how God has used me and has used youth ministry to grow me up. I know God is going to continue to do amazing things and I am looking forward to what this next chapter will include.
Finally, and this is a shameless plug for comments, if you have ever been involved in a ministry that I have lead or been a part of could you leave a comment of a memory or something you have gotten out of it. Thanks.