I never thought I’d be a youth pastor until now, when I’m about to become one.
A couple weeks before the wedding, I heard about a middle school youth pastor job that was opening up a little south of the Twin Cities. I showed up to the interview with a couple nerves—hopeful for a job that paid well and kept me out of warehouse work— but there was something that seemed kind of random to it. I really was looking for a job, but I think too that deep down I wouldn’t have minded if I could grasp a little forward movement to what had felt like wandering in circles since I stepped out of ministry.
The church people were nice and bought me coffee. (Oh: we’re at a coffee shop now, the kind where people like me fumble their way through the menu to find where the plain black kind is.) We sat down, and they asked me questions. I pride myself on being able to crush interviews, so I gave my rehearsed answers about who I was, where I’d been, how I saw myself in their church, what’d make me a good fit. Blah, blah, blah. Church work is a surprisingly and shockingly good place to massage your ego.
Then they asked me what I would do with the ministry to the middle school kids at their church. I’m not sure what made that question any different. Honest. I had words to throw their way, but something buried deep decided to stitch themselves inside.
I’ve been in ministry for almost as long as I’ve been a Christian, which is interesting because I’m just now questioning what it means to be Christian, and I’ve never been able to give you a straight answer to what ministry is anyway.
If you asked me what ministry was then, I probably would’ve said something about showing them Jesus, an answer so prepackaged you’d almost wonder if I didn’t ship it with Amazon Prime. In reality there was love—genuine love— but I know on stage that it felt a little bit used car salesman (except selling Jesus) and a lot of trying to prove to myself that I was OK. Not OK, like I’m in a decent mood. More like OK, something about me deserves an attaboy I didn’t hear growing up.
It’s taken me a few years outside of formal ministry, a handful of beautiful human beings, and freaking out over how I’m supposed to do meaningful ministry to squirrely 13-year olds to capture a little light on what ministry might be.
I figure my definition of ministry is stupid if it requires me to turn something on when I do ministry with my middle school kids. I figure it’s pointless, too, if it doesn’t center on real people, people that stink when they sweat and smile when they hope: if my theory for ministry doesn’t get clothed in love, it’s an intellectual wasteland.
And then I think about the times I’ve felt most loved. Who loved me and why I felt loved. It’s scary because some of them have never been paid for ministry. In fact, some of them wouldn’t dare call themselves Christian. But it’s beautiful, because these people have all created spaces for me, not to be who I wish I was; not who I pretend to be the rest of the time; not who I used to be a few years ago; not who I could be if I could just catch a few breaks;
They were space-makers. And they made spaces that freed me to be who I actually was. And in that space, they knew me and enjoyed me. I might argue that those spaces—the ones where nobody asked anything of me except permission to enjoy me—stand ironically as the only times I’ve ever made meaningful progress in becoming who I was meant to be.
That’s a kind of ministry I’d want to do all the time.
God is in that, too, you know. It’s ministry because ministry is the art of making spaces that free people to be who they actually are, and any who engage in ministry momentarily give us a flesh-and-blood look at a Love that only made a thirty-year cameo a few millennia ago and won’t coming back for a while.
So welcome to my traveling ministry: enjoying you. Making spaces for us to be who we actually are. For us to truly know & enjoy each other. I’m out to enjoy my wife Kasey; we’re out to enjoy you, our Loring Park neighbors, and a bunch of middle schoolers.
And Twins baseball, too.
two miles from target field,