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September 22, 2009

Greener Grass

  It was the last weekend of May in 2005 that I moved back to Laramie with Sandra and our daughter to lead Emmaus Student Ministries on an interim basis. I was scared to death to take that leap of faith and move over here, and more scared to lead a youth group. I’ve never been the leader of something like that before and I was sure that somehow I would do something that would get me arrested or never allow me around students again. Somehow, we knew it was the right thing to do though, so we trusted God to provide and work out the details and we did it!

  After just a few months leading, I knew I loved doing it, but I also recognized that there were a lot of restrictions in leading a ministry while working a full-time job. Trying to lead a student ministry – even a part-time one – often feels like full-time work. It’s so hard to plan events, get personal study time in, lesson prep time and also hang out with students, without neglecting your spouse and children at home. I don’t let it show, but I constantly worry that I’m going to mess things up with my wife, or my kids will think I love other people’s kids more than them because I’m gone so much.

  In the past four years, I’ve seen Emmaus Student Ministries (ESM) shift and morph a lot. We’ve tried so many things trying to get kids to see the power, beauty and grace of Christ – often to apathetic results at best. Thankfully, it isn’t my job to change hearts, but only to help point them towards God. There have been things that were amazing, and times when messages or activities have totally flopped. You learn to roll with it. We’ve had “small groups” of 15 guys meet in my living room, and lately we’ve been studying through Galatians with two or three leaders and only one student. We’ve seen the girls side of the ministry struggle to even have one girl come, and we’ve seen 15 girls pile into Steph’s house and share with each other and study to depths I’ve never heard of junior and senior high kids going.

  Lately, I have to admit that I’ve been struggling with my role in this ministry. I hear stories of God doing amazing things with youth in other churches, and I see fewer kids showing up right now than we’ve had since the ministry began. I’ve questioned whether I should step aside and let someone else step into the role and see if God would do “bigger and better” things through them. I think this struggle is church-wide as we shift more and more from our original goals and purposes into new territory. In the midst of struggle or change, people often wonder if they are the right person for the job. That isn’t to say the new directions are bad, but they are different. So as I think about those shifts and where the ministry I lead is positioned right now, I wonder if a new voice would be more beneficial in my role.

  Then in the past few weeks, I’ve begun to make realizations in my personal times. This struggle is completely about me, and I’ve not once felt God actually calling me away from this ministry. I’m struggling with the idea that I’m not good enough, or that maybe this isn’t where I belong because the church doesn’t seem to be, or feel like it has in the past. God is doing something new with Emmaus and I still believe in the vision and the purposes of this church, even if they aren’t what I pictured at this stage. I’ve let the idea that a bigger youth group is better cloud my vision, and lost sight of the fact that the fewer kids I have, the more I can actually spend time with them and invest in their lives in way I could never do with a larger group. God has been pruning our ministry and at this moment in time, has set the ESM stage to allow me to start from scratch. I can forget the issues with the past, and build upon this foundation that God’s prepared for me.

  Towards that end, I started re-reading a book by Doug Fields called “Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry.” I’ve been here longer than two years, but for the first time, I’m viewing this as a fresh start, rather than continually trying to build on what has or hasn’t worked. It is fitting then, that the first chapter ends with the quotes below. It’s so easy to get side-tracked and want to go somewhere that has a building, a budget, lots of families and jump in. God didn’t place me in that church though. He placed me here and I can’t wait to see what He teaches me as I learn new ways to reach a community of students that appear not to care anything about God or spirituality in general. God has called me to this, and I’ll stick with it until He makes it clear that I need to leave. Emmaus is a church, and a family. Things happen in every family that are not always fun or easy to deal with, but you stick with it, because you’re family. There will come a time when God calls me to move on, but it won’t be for the reasons (excuses) I’ve had. It will be because God has work somewhere else for me to join Him in. I hope you enjoy the quote.

One of the common themes I heard from new youth workers has to do with discontentment. Typically, they want to see more fruit from their labor and see it faster…I’ve learned that when I feel discontent with my ministry situation, every option outside my church seems better. The church down the street looks inviting, that speaking invitations sounds alluring, the opportunity that I said no to last month now appears worthwhile. Each is a symptom of discontentment….one of the most frequent results of discontentment is leaving, walking away from your ministry.

If you want to survive, pursue being content with where God has you and the gifts you’ve been given. Stop looking over your fence into your neighbor’s yard, and thank God He’s using you where He has you. You’ve heard the adage, “The grass is greener on the other side?” The truth is, the grass is greener where it’s watered. So start watering your own grass.


Sandra said...

Good thoughts, Babe. If I'm being honest, it's been tough to see you struggle with where you and the ministry is at. I can see your love for this ministry, though, and I'm very proud of your persistence. I really believe that with this "fresh start" you'll be able to do some really big things, even if it is only with a few kids for the time being. I love you and am very proud of you!

Kingdomseeker said...

Hey Jon,
I gave that book to the new youth pastor at Harvest, Clint Haver. You two might want to get together and talk about it. Just an idea...

Angie said...

Great blog Jon. I know from doing summer missions that it's so easy to get defeated...I can't imagine facing those defeats on a weekly basis. The fact that you're still with it tells a lot about your character and perserverance. Keep fighting the good fight, God will be faithful! Your second quote fits all situations and I shared it with a fellow teacher who has been discouraged with her calling as of late. It's a good reminder for all of us.