This post was originally publish as a guest post for Engaging the Shadows of Youth Ministry. Thanks Matt Murphy for the opportunity!
This article has been looming within my heart for weeks now. What I am about to share with you stems from truthfully months of conversations, prayers, frustrations, victories, hard questions, hard answers, and God’s grace. My trip to SYMC has become the capstone to a lot of these feelings; let me explain…
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, God has put the desire within my heart and the calling on my life to write. This truly does not make much sense to me since English was my worst subject in school and I was completely content being an average youth worker that no one knew or cared about outside of the local church I work at and my own family.
This writing journey started for me about 3 years ago after a long argument with God about why I didn’t want to write; I liked what I was doing in the local church and I wanted nothing, especially my ego, to get in the way of that. I know myself pretty well, and I knew that even mild success could cause me to focus on the wrong things. So if I didn’t ever write then that could never happen.
Here I am three years later with a book that will be out in a month or so, a second book in the edit process, a third book idea in its infant stage, and a blog. Upon giving in to God and me starting to write I told God that this had nothing to do with me wanting to be “Christian famous” or making extra money. It had everything to do with me fulfilling everything He wanted me to do with my life.
James 4:17 (NIV) Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
That commitment has been tested more than once over these past 3 years, and I can tell you that I have not always passed that test. In the weeks leading up to my trip to SYMC God used several key people in my life to show me that I once again, had failed at keeping everything in proper perspective. As I entered into an environment where self-promotion and narcissism run rampant I had only one question on my heart and mind.
Is it even possible to do both and do them well? Can I work in a local church and write/speak on the national scale and not be negatively affected by it all?
As I stepped off the plane in Louisville, after several hours alone with God and my thoughts, that was what I needed God to answer. I was fully prepared (and kind of expected) for God to release me from the national scene and let me go back to Boise, focus on my family and my church, and never write again. You already know (since you are reading this) that is not exactly the answer I received. Through many conversations, classes, speakers, and observations this is what God showed me.
My voice is important
One of the things I had committed to before I went was to not push my blog or writing on anyone. As I purposefully did not bring it up in any conversations I was surprised at how many people asked me about it, and how many of those people told me how much they appreciated what I had to say. I saw that God was using my writing in ways I had no idea about.
My identity and worth belongs only in God
Walt Mueller mentioned a few different times about his findings from his research on social media and how it effects people. I already knew that I had been effected by it, and he just confirmed that it was not in a healthy way. I had said to people many times that social networking is “fake fellowship”, but I had not realized how much I had connected my own identity to online interactions. My self-worth was never supposed to be attached to my blog stats, number of twitter followers, or Facebook interactions but somehow that had become more important to me than the real live people in front of me. In the past two weeks I have not looked at my blog stats at all, limited my time online, and leave my phone on the counter when I get home. It has been very freeing but hard at the same time.
I had put my faith in the wrong places
My intention from the very beginning was to write for God and let him do with it what he wanted. I realized that by me pursuing agents, publishers, and other outlets for my writing I was doing it more for myself than for God. The more I participated in and got beat up by the publishing industry the more it messed with me. I had several conversations with people that had already been published and I realized that my issues might only be magnified if I, like them, did get traditionally published. Since my writing is not helping anyone sitting on my hard drive I am now going to self-publish my books so it is available and let God take care of the marketing and distribution. If my family and friends are the only people that buy my books it does not matter. They are God’s books and He can do whatever he wants with them, and since I will not be tied to a specific publisher or brand I will only answer to God.
God led me to James 3:13-4:17 that day on the airplane which started me down the road of seeing these three very important things.
James 4:1 (NIV) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
That day I wrote in my journal “the desires that battle within me are to be known and loved in the national spotlight vs. being a local youth pastor, husband, and Dad that doesn’t care about all that. I don’t know if I am capable of doing both Lord. That is the truth, and I don’t want to deny it any longer.”
God showed me that I can’t do both if I do it my way. But if I do fulfill what God has asked me to do, and only that, it is possible. What battles are going on inside of you? What truth do you need to admit to God and to yourself?
James 4:10 (NIV) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up
I am leaving town for the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in just a few days. I am in that mode right now where I am excited for the trip, but need to be focused on everything I must get done before I leave.
By taking a few minutes and writing down why I am looking forward to it so much I hope it will enable me to focus on everything else…we will see. Top 3 reasons I can’t wait for SYMC.
1. I get to spend several days in community with like minded people
Youth ministry is something that is not easily understood unless you are in it. For these few days most everyone I will interact with will understand the world I live in. I get to see some old friends. I get to meet several people face-to-face that I only know through a screen (from blogging and social network sites). And I will meet a ton of new people, all of which love youth ministry and are involved with it in some way.
2. I will get pored into emotionally, professionally, and Spiritually
Yesterday one of the guys in my small group asked what I do at a conference. I told him I go to classes, hear some speakers, and enjoy some great music. The look on his face said “why would you want to go do that, we do that here.” I then said “it is like going to church for me, because when you work at a church you don’t get to just go very often.” He understood that reasoning.
3. I will get to serve and give back.
I am volunteering at the conference to help with some of the behind the scenes stuff. My name is not on any flyer, I am not formally teaching anything, and no one will notice when I enter a room. But I know that over my last decade of being pored into and ministered to at conferences there were a ton of people helping to make that possible for me. I also have had several casual conversations with people wiser and more experienced than me that has helped me more than any of them realized. I am excited and honored to be able to return the favor this next week.
So there are a few reasons why I can’t wait to go to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference, are you going to be there? If so please make sure I get to meet you. Why are you excited?
If you are not yet registered click here and get registered!
Ok…now back to my to do list.
The reason why this is number one is because it is the one that fills me up the most. This is something that is not easily attained in our society and in my current phase of life, at least not for more than a few minutes in a row. There is always some interruption or pressing need that hinders any solitude. When I can get it, this time is usually filled with meditating on scripture, prayer, and journaling. I do a regular “quiet time” most days, which does include all three of these, but it is normally only a ten minute part of my morning routine and does not qualify as solitude. It does help me to “top off” my emotional and spiritual tank, but when I am on empty I need a few hours, not a few minutes.
I am not, and have never been a “reader”. Reading is not enjoyable for me, the phrase “pleasure reading” is an oxymoron in my book. However, I do love to learn. I quickly realized while in college, if I am going to learn I need to read. I like reading blogs because I can read and learn in quick and small doses, and if I want I can react or comment to the author instantly (which is sometimes a good or a bad thing). Since I don’t read books on a regular basis, when I do it is very refreshing.
I think this is somewhat of a guy thing, but I love to play. This is one of the reasons I love living in Idaho because the outdoor recreation is close and abundant. I am definitely one of the people that come home from an ideal vacation more physically exhausted than when I left. Staying in a hotel is not my idea of relaxing. I would rather sleep on our boat so I can literally step out of my sleeping bag and directly into my wakeboard.
This is something I have just started doing in the past few years. As God has continued to mold me and use me in different ways I felt like writing was something He wanted me to do. I can say the publishing side of writing is NOT refreshing or fulfilling for me, in fact it has proven so far to be quite frustrating. But the actual process of writing does indeed fill me up, whether anyone actually reads what I write or not.
5. Spend time in community
One of the most refreshing things I can do as a youth worker is hang out with other youth workers. Whether it is a local NNYM meeting, a national conference like SYMC or NYWC, or online through social media I love connecting with other youth workers.
One of the most refreshing things I can do for myself is to hang with my wife, my kids, my extended family, family friends, or even a good conversation with the random person that gets stuck next to me on an airplane. No agenda, nothing to accomplish or create, but just time together.
As I look over this list, I realize that every single one of them have to be done intentionally. If I don’t purposefully schedule it, set it as a goal, or focus on it none of these five things would ever happen. My daily life always has other things that are more pressing or more urgent, and if I let it happen these things will get pushed to the bottom of my priority list.
The other thing I notice is how they directly counteract the things on my empty list. It is almost like God knew what he was doing when he made me….huh, how about that! This week while I am away, I am purposefully pursuing all five of these things.
I challenge you to take a few moments in the next few days, and write out your empty list and full list. Obviously yours will probably be different than mine, but I am sure it will be just as valuable for you as it has been for me.