God Is in Control...Yada... Yada... Yada
by Len Evans
I toyed with the idea of writing this anonymously because I was scared that it would come across bitter and angry since…well, I'm probably bitter and angry.
David wrote about walking through the valley of the shadow of death; well, this past year it seems like we've been camping out in the valley of the shadow of death—and the dangers, toils, and snares have come courtesy of some Christians and some churches.
I've never served in a true mega-church (2000 on a Sunday) or had 200 active students every week, but I've been fortunate and able to do some pretty cool things in youth ministry land. I graduated from a great seminary, pastored thriving youth ministries, spoke at national youth worker conventions, and wrote lots of articles and curriculum—even a recent book.
Despite all these accolades and appearances of success, it's been a rough haul recently. So I thought I'd share some of my recent journey with all of its fear, doubt, and messiness, written in the moment.
The Dark Days – 4 months ago
I've been looking for a new ministry position for over six months. I left the church and have been without income for almost three months; my savings will run out soon. I've played back the last church situation in my head hundreds of times. Seems it "wasn't a good fit"—which was true in some ways. At the end, my senior pastor told me I didn't fit in well with the church culture—and I agreed, since it seems to be characterized by material affluence that's led to an attitude of entitlement.
I made mistakes and I could've done things better, but I didn't do anything worthy of being asked to leave…er, excuse me…I "resigned"—of course, it was made clear to me that it'd be easier to provide some severance if I agreed my departure was 100% mutual.
There were no moral issues, my behavior was above reproach, and I was told that I'd left with grace. (Does telling this story—albeit true—still qualify me for leaving with grace?)
I believe there's a plan for me, but I just wish God didn't have to use these kinds of people to accomplish it.
The Darkest Night
I've never really considered abandoning youth ministry until tonight. I looked at my wife and told her, "If this church that we're talking to doesn't work out, I'll leave youth ministry. I'll leave any sort of ministry."
I'm tired of my wife being hurt by promises that are broken by church leaders. I'm tired of telling my daughters, "It'll be okay, maybe this next church is where Jesus wants us to be," and "No honey, we're not poor yet. Don't worry about those kinds of things." But most of all, I'm tired of being treated like a corporate employee who's simply there to do the bidding of the higher ups.
This whole experience makes me just want to find a job to pay the bills, focus on loving my family, and go hide in a church rather than serve in one. Then fear kicks in as I wonder who would hire a 35-year-old former youth pastor with no "real world" experience. I still, and always will, love the church; though some churches really tick me off with how they treat people, especially youth workers.
Don't get me wrong. Some youth workers should be fired. Heck, some of us never should have become full-time youth workers in the first place! But right now, it feels like there are a lot more of us out there who should be treated better than we are.
I've had over 20 phone interviews with different churches, and yet not one place has worked out. Four have been very close. One even said, "We can have you here in two weeks," and then the next day called and said, "We're sorry; we think we rushed the process."
Maybe God is telling me that I should get out of ministry or maybe that I should wait. I'm not sure what the answer is, and I'm not sure, at this moment, what I want the answer to be. My theology tells me that God is in control and in the end it'll all be okay—but right now I don't want to hear it, and frankly I'm not sure if I believe it.
The Rest of the Story
It seems that my camping permit to the valley of the shadow of death was a temporary one. It was so dark on some days that I joked with my wife that if it got much worse I was going to take my daughters' Bibles and pitch them, saying, "You won't need those." I didn't really want to, but that's how low I was feeling—wow!
As I reviewed what I wrote four months ago as a cathartic exercise at my lowest point in the search process, it's still hard to relive or even recall the extent of the pain I was experiencing.
After interacting with over 40 churches in response to my resume, I'm currently a volunteer youth pastor while working a full-time job somewhere else. Lots of stuff about this church excites me, especially the leadership. They're all on the same page, and they know where they're going. And they're hoping by faith and proper planning to hire me full-time in another 4-5 months.
Meanwhile, a church of 8,000 contacted me last week with the words, "You're at the top of our list." But the truth of the matter is that this church of 350 is such a great fit that I'd rather be here as a volunteer than pursuing that next step up the youth ministry success ladder.
Through this process I learned several things: to trust God more than my resume; that contentment comes from God's plans, not mine: and that it's okay to hurt when life's circumstances go from bad to horrid. Most importantly, I learned that God really is in control, even when I think about pitching the kids' Bibles.
Len Evans is the author of Creative Bible Lessons in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus and is the family pastor for Grace Bible Church in La Vernia