Lost and Found: My Ministry Calling
I grew up in an unchurched family, but came to faith in Jesus at the end of 8th grade. This was largely a result of being pursued by teenagers in a local church who gave me a “tribe” and a sense of belonging at a time in my life that I desperately needed it. Within weeks of becoming a Christian, I knew that God was calling me to vocational ministry. At the time, it was confusing, overwhelming, but also incredibly exciting. Throughout High School, I discerned that my calling was to serve in Youth Ministry, to pastor those in the season of life where I had been profoundly changed by the Gospel of Jesus.
As I attended college to pursue a ministry degree, I was put on the “fast track” regarding experience. As a 19-year-old Sophomore, the first church I would serve vocationally, hired me as a part-time Youth Minister. A few months after college graduation, I would transition to a full-time position at a church near my seminary where I would continue to grow academically and vocationally. About 13 years into ministry, a marriage, relocation, denominational shift, Master’s Degree, and three kids later, I was living the ministerial “dream” serving a church I loved deeply while being “successful” as most would define it.
I had everything I had worked toward and thought I would want, and I found myself tired, burnt out, spiritually dry, and resentful. I entered a season of second-guessing most decisions in my life, including my decision to follow Jesus. I was “done” on nearly every level, including being a Pastor. So, at the end of a busy summer of ministry, and feeling like I could spontaneously combust at any moment, I took 4 days of solitude in the mountains of Colorado to try and find a path forward in life.
The trip would be some of the darkest and loneliest days I have ever experienced. The spiritual warfare I endured was the most palpable of my lifetime. There were tears, the darkest of dark thoughts, and the most sincere prayers I have ever prayed. As I spent a day hiking up a mountain trail, I told myself that I wasn’t coming down until I had some answers. At the summit, I experienced the near-audible voice of God tell me, “It’s time.” I knew exactly what He meant. It was time to deal with all the “stuff” that had contributed to me being the position I was in, and I didn’t need to have gone to Colorado to figure that out. There had been a lot of warning signs of what I was experiencing along the way that I had either ignored or pushed aside, and I now had a real sense that it was “do or die” time.
My trip home from Colorado was a turning point in my life. I told myself, “I’m going to give what I think I know to be true one last shot.” I began to earnestly invest in myself spiritually for the first time in a long time. I read and applied books on ministerial burnout, and spiritual discipline. I began to initiate and invest in friendships in a deeper way. I had discussions with my supervisors about needing to selectively off-load some responsibility that was crowding my plate. My wife and I attended a National Youth Workers Convention together (after a few years off) where the fire in my heart for Youth Ministry was rekindled, and my calling was reaffirmed. As I began to get healthier, and only by the power of the Holy Spirit, I was able to pull some “skeletons” out of the closet and begin a process of confession, repentance, and healing of issues that dated back to my childhood. These were things that I had, for too long, been afraid to share and process and were the root of much of the struggle I was experiencing as an adult. This season of my life would include a significant amount of professional counseling.
Throughout the initial months of this process, I seriously wrestled with the question “Is Youth Ministry still for me?” I wondered if part of my healing would be to step away from the work that was entwined with my struggles. I allowed myself to dream of, and even explore, alternatives. God used the process to clarify that my passion was still to spiritually invest in teenagers and to train and equip others to do so.
My nearly year-long “crisis” was the hardest season of my life. However, the personal, spiritual, marital, and vocational growth experienced has been worth it. Now, a few years removed, I look back at the season as a monument as to what God can do in someone’s life. My faith has been galvanized and my calling reinforced. I’m so grateful that there was a path forward and that the path still included Youth Ministry.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.