death and rebirth

I’ve fallen out of love with the “idea of ministry.”

At the age of twelve, when I first became a member of First Presbyterian Church, I told my dad that I was going to run for the elder board. He told me I could, but that most likely the congregation would not vote for a twelve year old. I pictured the congregational meeting, with the names on the white board in Westminister Hall and couldn’t bear the thought of rejection. I let the idea rest in my head, but if it gives you any indication of the type of person I might become – well – church was my playground.

My parents have always been involved with youth ministry, and while I was in the jr. high program that my parents and another couple led for an interim, I often told my dad what I thought we should do. Sometimes he listened, mostly he knew better.

Church was a place I felt safe, alive and able to thrive. I dreamed of being a youth pastor one day, with or without a husband… in a place of shepherding teenagers toward Jesus as my primary vocation.

As I grew older, my faith began to take shape in the identity of ministry.

Only now am I able to see the danger of identifying too much hope in the “idea of ministry.”

I love our students. And more than ever before, I feel connected to a generation desperate for connectedness with God and with people.

But God has chiseled away the glamorized notion of ministry that I once cherished in my heart. The appeal of supremacy, leadership, responsibility, righteousness, and pride that was tangled with the earnest desire to shepherd people has diminished into a mere eagerness to love students, with or without approval of man. I wish I was stronger at the latter.

I now feel most alive when I am sitting in Starbucks with a couple students asking them about their lives and how they got where they are.

In the midst of discouragement and despair, and an honest plea of my heart to make it all go away, God sends treasure in the face of small teenagers, text messages from high school girls, emails from a student thanking me for “dealing with teenagers because that must be hard sometimes” (little does she know I want to tell her that ‘dealing with teenagers’ is the easiest part of my job), and homemade chocolate cake from a youth’s mom who just wants to bless.

I called my friend Jess after meeting with some students the other day and said, “Jess, after these crummy few weeks, I only want to bury myself more into the lives of teenagers. I could throw out everything else, but I just love these teens.” She is our children’s director and replied, “I know exactly what you mean. I feel the same way when I teach my class on Sundays. I guess that just means we’re exactly where we need to be.”

I think she’s right. I will no longer be so naive as to glamorize ministry and the idea of flexible hours, the role of being a shepherd, or planning great events for teens. Instead, I will wrestle to “do” ministry… which really just means loving people toward Jesus, and hope that God will make more of an impact from my relationships with students than the quarterly calendar and emails I send to parents week after week… which I am now a week late on.


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