It's funny when I think about it. I went on the interview not knowing much. Sure, I had given my life over to God a few years before, but I didn't comprehend what that meant. I knew the Bible had a beginning and end. I had faith in God, but didn't know what it meant to live by it. If people talked about a "personal relationship with Jesus" I would put them in the Jesus Freak category. Start talking about hearing God's voice, the Spirit moving, the Enemy or spiritual warfare and they would go in the "Nuts" category.
In the interview, I raised questions about the church's core values, what they taught and what I disagreed with. I was brutally honest in my thoughts, partially because I didn't think I really wanted the job. I was sure honesty had negated any chance at a follow up. Huh. Shows what I know.
I've now been in youth ministry three times longer than what's considered average, six times longer than I figured I would have at that interview.
A few years back I had the opportunity to take another job, in fact I was offered the job. As I sat at the table with the people who would be my boss and executive, I heard a clear voice from God "not yet." And so the visit that was supposed to be accepting a salary and signing a contract ended with my saying: "I'm sorry. I just heard God say not yet. I'm not supposed to take this job." They looked at me like I was nuts. I felt nuts. But the voice was clear.
Since that moment when I heard God say "not yet," I have seen why. You see, in youth ministry there isn't much for tenure. Many youth people stick around long enough to burn out. They don't make it much past the heartache, of which there is more than imaginable. They take a look at their broken and bruised heart and spirit and realize it's not worth it. They count the cost in scars and battle wounds, apathy and argument. They don't listen for the "not yet" from God and decide they're done, can't do it anymore, have had enough.
Or, they start the ladder climb. They listen to a church culture that says the youth are a lesser ministry and your future is "pastor." They appreciate the years in youth ministry and move on to 'bigger,' 'better,' 'more respected.'
It's too bad this is so normal. Had I given in to the burn out or started the ladder climb, if I had taken the job and not heeded God's word, I would have missed seeing God at work the way I have. It's an honor and privilege to see God move the way he does in young people.
In six years, I've walked with kids through everything. Ev.ery.thing. You name it, I've ministered to it. I've walked alongside kids and their families through the greatest joys and the deepest sorrows. I've seen them succeed and fail, all the while seeking Jesus in the midst. Some have walked away from the faith, and for them I pray without ceasing.
Still others have fallen into full surrender to Jesus and his will for their life. I've witnessed kids make their plans and let them unravel as God says "not yet." I've listened as young people step out in faith and boldly follow the Spirit, wherever it leads. I've experienced jr. high kids that seem indifferent or disobedient coming to know Christ in ways unimaginable. These same jr. high kids (who I was certain weren't getting a thing out of what I was trying to teach them) now bring me to my knees in worship by a simple text, a drop in visit, a phone call or a tweeted picture. I consider what God has done in their life and through them...and they don't realize what I see. I thank God that he said "not yet."
It hasn't been an easy road.
In six years, I've begged and pleaded with God to say "you're done." I've asked God to give me something, anything, to let me know I'm serving him well. I've had times of desert, wilderness and straight-up misery. My years have had heartache and hurt, as I've made mistakes, enemies and wrong decisions. I am tormented by things I said wrong, words that may have hurt and decisions that served as a lynch pin causing someone to walk away. And, while I realize I can't save anyone - that it's Jesus who saves - I'd be lying if I said it doesn't cross my mind that I really mess up sometimes. I quell the enemy voice enough. But sometimes it's convicting, it's a powerful reminder that I fall way short. And still, God says "not yet."
At year four, my husband and I had a difficult conversation and decided that when the class of 2014 was done, I would be too. They (and the class before them) baptized me into youth ministry with energy, spirit, chaos - and as they got older - faith, grace, mercy, acceptance and honesty.
Well, they graduated two weeks ago. And I'm still here.
Because again, I hear "not yet."
God is at work in me again (read more here) . I feel it. I'm in seminary pursuing my M.Div, not because I want to move up a ladder, but because I want to teach and lead well. I don't know where God will lead me, and I continue to seek the Spirit. The discernment process is in full force. As I hold small groups, prep for mission trips and talk deep theology with those who were jr. highers when I started, I reflect on these 6 years of youth ministry. I wait with anticipation of what God will do in the next phase of "not yet."