Three and a half months ago, I transitioned from a youth ministry role at a church I had been at for a decade to a youth ministry role at a new church. While there are a lot of insights I have from the initial months in my new role and context, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the period of searching that led me here and some of the lessons I learned during that time.
1. Waiting Is Hard
I don’t know anyone who enjoys and embraces waiting for anything – whether it’s waiting for a slow car to make a turn, waiting for a drink to be ready at Dunkin’ Donuts, or for the Wi-Fi to load, I find myself tapping my foot impatiently more often than I’d like to admit. There have been a few times in my life I’ve had to wait for something significant (in fact, both of my children were almost 2 weeks overdue), and looking back over my process of searching for a new ministry role I think it was the most impactful period of waiting. Along the way, there were stretches where nothing new was popping up, and there were times when I thought God was leading me in one direction only to learn he had more waiting in store.
It doesn’t take a youth pastor long to learn that students are notoriously bad at waiting. Whether it’s their struggle with expecting 100% spiritual growth in a short time, or their own experience of waiting to see God’s direction for their life, they often haven’t experienced the periods of waiting in life that develop that muscle of patience. As I’ve come out of a period of waiting, and then waiting, and then waiting, I’m praying that I’ll be more patient with others who struggle with waiting, and use this experience to become better at walking alongside those who are in periods of waiting.
2. God Clarifies Calling Progressively
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a chef. I was accepted at Johnson & Wales University for Culinary Arts, which is where I wanted to go (because Emeril Lagasse went there!). Then I received no financial aid, which made the decision to attend community college for a couple years very easy. During that time, I spent the summers as part of a leadership program at a camp I attended growing up, and felt a call to ministry. I had several people unprompted tell me they thought I would be good in youth ministry, and I followed that prompting to Nyack College to study youth ministry (where I did receive financial aid!). During my time in the youth ministry program at Nyack, I felt called to youth ministry indefinitely, in large part because of Ron Belsterling’s call to take youth ministry seriously and do it with excellence. From that point forward, I felt strongly called to be in youth ministry for the duration of my career, whether in a local church or through research, teaching, or writing.
And then, I had to wait and wait… As I looked for a youth ministry position that would be a good fit, not wanting to just apply everywhere and narrowing the search by location, doctrine, and other factors, there were periods when it didn’t seem like I would find a spot. During that time, I began to consider if God was still calling me to youth ministry or if I should think about taking a different role in ministry or even looking for something in the private sector. I asked myself the question, “What if my desire to do youth ministry forever was an idol? Was I willing to let it go?” I found that when I came to accept the possibility that youth ministry might not be my forever fit, then God opened up the doors to lead me to my current role, where I am able to continue doing youth ministry sustainably. I don’t assume that the solution is just to feign letting go of something to try and gain it back, but I do think that the calling God places on our lives has to be subject to change. Just as we don’t want to continue running on the fumes of an experience of God’s grace years prior, I think it’s wise to remain flexible in discerning God’s calling for the future.
3. God is Sovereign
As someone who leans Reformed in most of my theology, God’s sovereignty is not a new concept to me, but knowing something intellectually and knowing it personally are often two different things. As I have the opportunity to look back on my search process now and see where it ended, I can see God’s hand at work in leading me to our new church family, allowing us to be closer to family, and clarifying and reinforcing my call. While there were times that I thought God was leading in one direction and experienced letdown when they didn’t materialize, I can see his sovereign hand at work. I can also see it through the additional time he allowed me to enjoy ministry at my previous church, and bringing fruit in the extended period of waiting as well. I’m hopefully that I’ll continue to see examples of God’s sovereignty at work, and will trust him resolutely in the times when I can’t understand why he’s taking me in a certain direction.
As I look back on my time of searching, I’m grateful for the ways God was stretching and growing me, preparing me for the role I’m in now, and preparing the church for me as well. And while I desire to be here for the long haul and am not expecting to begin another search, I am hopeful that God will continue to teach me as I walk in step with him (and even in the times where I falter and I’m off-beat). May we together be attentive to his leading and the lessons he has for us, and in turn may the students we love and care for grow in their ability to see how God is teaching them.