As I gazed out into the crowd on March 30, 2014, I gave a speech of gratitude, sorrow, but ultimately of optimism (You can read the transcript of that speech here). After almost 5 years in the ministry in one way or another, I was about to leave it for a season. Before March 30, my life was about to change drastically. I was 25 years old. I was about to go back to living with my parents. I had applied to Hebrew University but hadn’t been accepted yet. I still had things I wished I could have done in ministry. I was a few short months from graduating with my M.Div. and I wasn’t sure if I would have a job when I left the ministry. At the time, I felt like I was a major disappointment. Today is March 30, 2015 and the last 13 months have been the epitome of an emotional roller coaster. It’s been one year since I gave that speech and this is a reflection of what it’s been like to be out of the ministry for a year:
I haven’t slept on my own bed in a year. I haven’t preached a sermon in over a year (I don’t count the Israel Experiences in February). With the exception of a going away party I haven’t planned any events in a year (Youth Pastors, you know what I’m talking about). I haven’t had to deal with church politics in a year. There are a list of other things I could go on about, but the most important thing I have to note is that things are extremely different.
I once heard a wise comment from Pastor John Bower. When I told him in 2011 that I was seeking desperately to find a place to do full-time ministry he responded by saying, “Working in full-time ministry isn’t about working in a church office for 40 (let’s be real, it’s never 40 hours) a week, or preaching sermons every week, full-time ministry is being obedient to the Holy Spirit 24/7/365.” I’ve done my best to honor those words of wisdom, but it hasn’t been easy. So here’s a list of good and not so good things after being removed from the full-time church office setting this last year.
*These comments do not represent any particular church I’ve worked at. I’ve worked in 3 ½ churches since 2009, and I’ve seen the inner workings of several others. These are just my own general reflections.
I’m not sure what it’s like for all Youth Pastors, but I pretty much made my own schedule. Since most of my events took place at night, I wouldn’t go into the office until 10 or 11am at times. Plus, since I was working on my Seminary degree there were a plethora of nights where I was in my office until 12 or 1am. Even though I don’t miss my seminary work while in ministry, I do miss not being able to make my own schedule. And I really really miss having an office with all of my books and a decent chair to sit in (It’s the little things).
No church is perfect and each church has its good and bad aspects. However, church politics were an uncomfortable side effect to ministry. I didn’t like playing them, but sometimes you had to. To put it frankly: I don’t miss them.
I don’t have an administrative bone in my body and the church would crumble without these incredible people who take on these tasks. But sometimes it felt like the administration was getting in the way of being able to minister effectively and sometimes it brings so much stress you want to pull out your hair. Unfortunately, they probably feel the same way about me. Not every Youth Pastor is this way, but I for sure do not miss forgetting budget receipts each month or forgetting to put something away.
Breath of Fresh Air
Right after I left the ministry, I began working on keeping my website updated, tried to get my video production up, and tried to promote my life coaching. Unfortunately, my time was limited because I was working a part-time job and when I wasn’t working, I was trying to spend time with friends/family before I left for Israel, and obviously had plenty of loose ends I had to tie up. But it felt so good to be able to do things I had been dreaming of doing for a couple years. In a lot of ways, a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders.
Even though there are a lot of things I don’t miss about ministry, nothing can compare to missing the Youth. The relationships you build, the teens you are able to guide and help, and the experiences you have will always be a part of you. Even when I was working at Dairy Queen last summer, and even being in a classroom with 18 year olds in August and September, I realized I will always be a Youth Pastor. If the Lord ever allows me to plant my own church, Youth Ministry will always be a major part of my ministry and life because it’s not a job, it just becomes who you are as a person. I will always be a Youth Pastor in one way or another.
My last blog post was an honest expression of things I miss and things I want (You can read that here). I don’t want to re-say what I did last week, but I do miss Youth Ministry more than anything. I don’t miss the politics, the administration aspect, or the stress. But I miss those teens I spent so much time praying for and doing life with. I miss my adult leaders who I spent time pouring into. I miss the parents who I felt ministered more to me than I to them. You guys will always have a special place in my heart and I miss you all dearly.
For Youth Pastors: Don’t give up. You have one of the hardest tasks in the church. You are helping teens not only discover their identity as a teenager, but also trying to show them who Jesus is and why He is important in a world that wants to block Him out. The truth is that Jesus is Hope. Jesus is forgiveness. Jesus helps overcome that depression, that blade, that alcohol, that bullying. He gives hope in the midst of all the troubles you and your teens will encounter. So preach the gospel. But remember this above all else: be genuine, be authentic and be real with them. It may not always be popular, but you aren’t a Youth Pastor to be popular. Jesus wasn’t popular either. So you’re in good company. On a church note: You may not be in the best situation at your church, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. If your original plan was to stay for a while, do your best to fix the issues rather than run. It isn’t easy, but neither is leaving on a bad note.
For other Pastors on Staff: Youth Pastors recognize that your ministry is important too. Every ministry in the church is important. Maybe your Youth Pastor is young. Maybe he/she is older. It doesn’t matter; support, encourage, and pray for them. Ask them to do that same thing for you. You may not always be on the same page, but make it part of your ministry to help out one another.
For All Pastors: You work for Jesus and He is your ultimate boss. You are working to share the gospel hope with your community, help people follow Jesus, and teach the importance of scripture and right living. If that isn’t why you are in ministry, then you shouldn’t be in the ministry and maybe should reevaluate your motives. That may sound harsh, but too many people are in the ministry for the wrong reasons and it’s for those “other reasons” that our churches are dying, their co-pastors/staff are strained, and why the people they pastor don’t look like disciples of Jesus.
One Final Note
This has been quite the difficult task for me – not being the ministry and being 6,000 miles away from the people I love. But here I am again a year later saying that I’m optimistic about my future. I have a lot of questions to answer, a lot of things to learn, both academically and spiritually. Nonetheless, I’m believing that through this season I will be a better man, a better pastor and a better follow of Jesus because of it.
Thanks for reading!