Jul 2, 2006

backstory - part 2


How does that go again? If one person says you’re a duck, ignore them. If another person says you’re a duck, look in the mirror. If a third person says you’re a duck, check for feathers because you’re more than likely a duck.

“Don’t worry… I’ll get the lights.”

I shared those words with Scott, my friend and fellow servant in Warehouse Student Ministries. (Actually, it’s called something else now… youth pastors often like to change names of things that don’t need to be changed. I say this not to slam anyone other myself because I’ve done it many times in my life in order to make the thing feel like it belonged more to me and the group I was leading instead of the last guy we inherited it from… we say things like, “He didn’t know what he was thinking when he named it ________ because in order to follow the real mandate of Matthew 28 we need to be called ‘Flippin’ Frogs Fellowship’ instead." And for the record, I honestly have no issue with the fact that it’s no longer called Warehouse Student Ministries because whatever it’s called today makes sense to the kids and leaders that are in it... until someone else comes in and changes it to reflect a new era of direction.)

Anyway, like I was saying, I told Scott to not worry about the lights. Our senior high night was over and all the kids had left the new building that I had successfully led the charge in moving us into. I say this not to toot my own horn, because in the big picture of things I ended up being the Moses figure in the story of this youth ministry... called to get them out of a rented facility down the street and through an exodus era until we got into a new building we had built for them on site. Even though we were forced to take occupancy when the school year started (and while there was an abundance of dust and construction devices around), it was a youth building and being in it meant something.

At the time I became responsible for conceptually designing the building I didn’t know this was how the story would end... for I truly hoped to enter the “Promised Land,” too. After leading several brainstorming sessions with key leaders, parents, and church people, I was geeked to hand off to our executive pastor a solid building plan to run with. Eventually a foundation was laid, not to mention beam after beam. I felt a sense of “WOW!" in having had a direct hand in how it looked and was blessed to host a day of prayer and dedication for it in the middle of the summer. Crazy to have so much "power" and "authority," eh?

But really… I didn’t. Again, it’s like naming a ministry – someone else will come along and paint over the colors you put down, decide that the wall you wanted to put up doesn’t make sense in the place you thought, and lay down carpet in places you believed a ball should bounce on hardwood floors. You don’t think about any of this at the time, though, because as far as you’re concerned your ego is calling the shots in the short-term with a naïve belief that any of this will matter in the long-term.

And so it was during this Sunday night in the fall of 2004 that I stood in the shadows of “The Warehouse” for my last night as its leader.

As a bit of backstory, a few weeks before this moment I was asked to step out of the student ministry and into a temporary role of a creative arts director. It was a curveball I didn’t expect, and basically it boiled down to the senior staff of my church believing I wasn’t capable of leading the ministry in the way that they wanted me to.

Now... this is obviously the part where I could go into a whole bunch of solid reasons about how I disagreed with them and why they were wrong, but really… what’s the point? If they failed to see the godly fruit I believed was happening through me, perhaps it’s possible that I failed to see the faults they believed me to have.

Hmm… maybe I need to read that last sentence again.


How does that go again? If one person says you’re a duck, ignore them. If another person says you’re a duck, look in the mirror. If a third person says you’re a duck, check for feathers because you’re a duck.

Scott left, leaving me alone in the building. I reflected on my journey with the church to this point, having come in two years earlier to a crazy situation of hurt and then rebuilding trust among the leaders and students. We gathered that small core group together and prayed and pursued our way to reach more and more students, adding new leaders and teenagers along the way. I had numerical goals I was supposed to obtain in order to have “job security,” and doggone it if we didn’t come awfully close to those numbers. Apparently, though, it wasn’t enough.

Sorry… I’m leaking out a bit.

In the month of May I became the project manager to pack up our old building that we were leasing and find a way to keep things happening all throughout the summer without any gathering place. At the size we were at, this was a challenge... not to mention having to pack a large facility down into two storage units. This also meant revamping the empty building to its original state (which included painting, knocking down walls, etc) and getting it ready for the landlord to approve. Add to this a student service on a Sunday morning (complete with full music, drama, teaching, etc) and a job search for a part-time middle school pastor (because I begged and pleaded for help and finally got some) and it was a crazy time.

Imagine what it would be like to have to find a way to keep a student ministry going all summer long under those circumstances.

We did it, though, having the middle school kids (because we added two grades that year, creating a 5-8 grade ministry) meet under a huge party tent on Sunday mornings and then having a massive group of senior high students crowd into my own backyard later that night. In fact, we even pulled off three major “rite of passage” weekends for guys, a week long “Narrow Road Rules” mission trip, launched a new girls ministry, initiated a student internship program, started up a house group format, met at Burger King for breakfast club Bible studies, and started a class for senior high students looking to grow to the next level with Jesus Christ... all in that summer. I even added some extra events to the calendar because one of the kids of a key leader in the church said, “There really isn’t much happening this summer in the youth ministry.” ARGH!

Did I mention that I was very tired throughout this whole season?

Perhaps that’s why during practice for our student service I didn’t manage the kids in a way that they needed to be managed during their last week of school... causing serious doubts about my leadership. In fact, it may have been this weariness that caused me on our mission trip to allow some guys to take part in “super power dumping” by hovering over toilets to drop a plop instead of sitting on the ring like a nice boy (I apologize for this crass description, but that’s all I have)... causing serious doubts about my leadership. In fact, it may have even caused me on the fall road trip to neglect to be sure that every guy called home to tell his parents we’d be late (thereby causing one of the parents to understandably get upset about it)... causing serious doubts about my leadership. Then there was the whole issue of not tending to my leaders like I should have and keeping a tighter reign on things that I should have because I had to keep things looking good... causing serious doubts about my leadership.

Sorry... I'm leaking out again.


How does that go again? If one person says you’re a duck, ignore them. If another person says you’re a duck, look in the mirror. If a third person says you’re a duck, check for feathers because you’re a duck.

Maybe my advocates were right and that none of this was my fault... maybe it was all about a system that was broken and forced me to focus on proving myself instead of serving wholeheartedly. Maybe it became all about the appearance of "non-failure" at the expense of true life change... a typical youth worker's complaint about "the system" and "the man."

Then again… maybe I really wasn’t a good leader after all. Maybe none of this was circumstantial, and maybe I truly had no business being in student ministry. Perhaps the opinions of others were right and mine were wrong. It could very well be that I wasn't the right person for the job and I was causing things to bleed in places they shouldn't.

After all, if the loudest voice in the room says it....

then is must be true.



How does that go again? If one person says you’re a duck, ignore them. If another person says you’re a duck, look in the mirror. If a third person says you’re a duck, check for feathers because you’re a duck.

So like I said... I got the lights.

And a funny thing happened...

I started to sing. Sure, it was through a cracked throat, but a very honest moment of worship.

"You give and take away... you give and take away... my heart will choose to say... bless-ed be your name...

Blessed be the name of the Lord... blessed be your name..."
Stick around ministry long enough and you'll find things that are hiliarious that at the time absolutely weren't. Or maybe they were... but then you had to feel bad about it... but then you started laughing about it again. I think back to the aformentioned "power dumping" and feel a smile while also wondering how I could have made such a rookie error. I also wonder about the things I did to get more kids in the door instead of helping more kids get into the kingdom.

There are a lot of things that are not "youth ministry."

Then occasionally... you get a glimpse of what is.

After I got the lights I went to my office... and turned on the switch.

There again was the display I'd encountered a few hours before. A paper with the signatures and encouragements of kids hung in the midst of paper towels and streamers that had been put up by those teens. It was their way of saying that they were going to miss me and that I'd made a difference in their lives.


I looked around, calculating how long I'd leave it up before taking it down. After all, starting the next day I'd be in a new temporary role that served adults and not teens. I couldn't very well have this hanging up, could I?

But I did anyway... because for at least one more night...

I was a youth pastor who had made a difference.


How does that go again? If one person says you’re a duck, ignore them. If another person says you’re a duck, look in the mirror. If a third person says you’re a duck, check for feathers because you’re more than likely a duck.

"Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel." (Deuteronomy 32:52)

"To not forgive is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die." - Anne Lamott


thatcoffeeguy said...

dang it tony, it's so hard to read your posts! we have lived so much of the same life: 1999, youth ministry, years of portable ministry, new building, designed the whole thing, did amazing and great things, managed so much yet never enough. then the weariness, a pastor's ego, the curve ball, the rug ripped out, the leaking, the healing, new directions, unmet expectations, questions, master's degree, and trying to interpret the "quack". your posts are always a little too close to home for me, but glad to see you are posting again.

...and it was done. seven years. no pat on the back, no thanks, no paper towels or streamers. my wife and i were the last to leave. all the students were gone. the band had left, the adults and volunteers with them. she held my hand tightly, but as we approached the door she instictively let go and walked ahead into the stairwell. i was alone in the room. it looked the same, but the air was still thick from the bomb that had just been dropped as i announced my departure. seven years. it was over. i pushed my back against the door, reached for the lightswitch, and paused. i drew a long, slow breath. i smelled the air. i savored the moment. time moved a bit differently. somewhere between fast-forward and slow-motion. all the 2600 faces, their stories, the joys and sadness, the jokes and heartaches, the mental residue of life shared together blurred before my eyes... time stopped and that moment seemed to last forever and i savored it... until the inevitable... click!

"when it's all be said and done
there is just one thing that matters
did i do my best to live for Truth?
did i live my life for You?
Lord, i live my life for You."
(james a. cowan, (c)1999 integrity's hosanna! music)

Tony Myles said...

Didn't mean to quack you up...

perhaps we're similar in that we're crazy enough to believe that Jesus believes in us (and the church) despite our messes.

thatcoffeeguy said...

ha ha, very punny.

i've prayed many times for some sort of 'mentor'. someone who's been through, or going through ministry stuff. that i respect and could glean good insight and proper perspective from. i always thought it would be a man of God that i would work with in ministry, meet regularly and have lunch with face to face. never really thought that person would be 984 miles and 18.5 hours away.

here's a funny story. i'm sitting here at Beaner's coffeehouse. (i'm tired of panera. no offense. i know your wife works there.) well, it's the only one in the area, in fact, the ONLY one in the South. they're based out of lansing, michigan. the owners of this franchise are from mobile originally, but have lived most of their lives in lansing. so this guy from the corporate office is in and checking things out. when he's done, he leaves. a few minutes later he comes back in and asks "does anyone have a black truck?" i said that i did and he asked me if i went to mars hill. huh? well, yes i do. a confusing conversation took place for a few minutes until i realized he was taking about rob bell's church outside grand rapids and i was talking about The People of Mars Hill here in mobile. anyway, he goes to rob bell's church as he is from grand rapids. the "love wins" bumper sticker on my truck is from his church. i even asked him if he knew you (he didn't. but that would have blown my mind and i might not have survived that coincidence.) didn't you attend rob bell's church when you had the chance? small world, huh?

even weirder is the fact that your new church Threads is similar to our new church (my wife and i joined last sunday). they even use the same Church Community Builder website. check it out at www.peopleofmarshill.com i think you'll find it interesting.


are you living my life in an alternate time zone about 10 months ahead of me? ;-)

Tony Myles said...

Small world! Wow... thanks for considering me a mentor. How about we just equalize it and call it iron sharpening iron (both ways)?

Yeah... I used to attend Mars Hill Bible Church. You know, I pretty much put Rob Bell on the map and all. :)