As many of you know, ministry can be a pretty rough gig. There can be harsh critiques, frustrating meetings, and seeming lack of progress, all of which can put a big damper on one's notions of self--effectiveness, efficiency, capabilities....all of those things can easily come into question. It used to be that when I heard a pastor say, in response to a compliment or affirmation, that it wasn't what he/she had done, only what God had done, I would get frustrated at such self-depreciation--the individual had obviously put in the effort to make things happen. After a year in full-time ministry, I too have come to use that phrase more often than not. I am regularly astounded at things that have happened, doubting that I affected any of it, and believing fully that it was only by the grace of God that things have happened/changed as they have. I still get frustrated by the notion that it was ALL God. Not that God hasn't acted, obviously God has, but we have to work too, we have to put forth the effort, plan the programs, write the sermons, develop the worship services, have the counseling conversations--the 50-60 hour work-weeks are spent somehow, and those long hours contribute to the changes/progress that are/is made.
In the midst of all of that, it has been easy for me to lose my self assurance in ministry. I haven't lost sight of my call, if I had I would have left almost right after starting for all of the pain and drama that existed. I know God has called me to this work, but I have regularly wondered if I am truly capable of it. I think part of the problem is that I have gone to a lot of church growth/planting workshops over the last 13 months and am constantly challenged to be a very different kind of pastor. Door knocks and cold calls are NOT my thing. They tie my stomach in knots and make me want to hull up and never come out. I don't know that I can even articulate how unwanted/undesirable the notion of 300-500 conversations with total strangers trying to get them to church, let alone the recommended 3000-5000 annually, is for me. And because of my reluctance on that front, I see myself as failing in the ministry. I have yet to start a new small group or have my church bursting at the seams with people, nor does it look like that is on the horizon in the near future for us.
I guess, because of all of that, I had gotten pretty far away from notions of confidence and affirmation in ministry. Not that I stopped working, I continue to work wholy and fully so that we might progress as a church, but I stopped seeing myself as a "good pastor". Well, the last couple of weeks have, fortunately, brought me out of that. First was the week at summer camp, an intense week to say the least, but I got to be the fun and creative pastor I like to be. I got to play, to do interactive preaching, to be creative in planning worship, to shout, and dance, and let go in ministry--to "just do it" in a sense. It felt so liberating to be at camp as a pastor. When I first got there, I knew I was to be the dean, but I really had no notion of what that would entail, I only knew I wouldn't be a counselor, and that was a bit of a loss since I love that role so much. But after a week I began to see "Dean" as the logical progression for me now that I am a pastor--that was the logical role for me to have. Not that I won't ever be a counselor again, only that being Dean seemed to fit--the preaching, the teaching, the counseling--that's my pastor role and it fit. While the direct one-on-one interactions I had with campers were fewer and farther between, when they did happen, there seemed to be a profundity to those conversations that made them more worthwhile. I left camp physically exhausted, but recharged emotionally and spiritually, affirmed in being a "young" pastor (the youngest, actually, in my conference) and in the gifts I have as a young pastor.
My church desperately wants me to work with "the young people", seemingly because I am the only person, because of my age, who can do that work. I do not believe that logic, I don't think it's as much about age (something that was underscored as I watched my 80 year old member do an awesome job as a camp counselor all week) as it is about loving and respecting the youth. And despite my congregation's desires, I have rarely seen myself as someone who is REALLY good with youth. Sure, I can. I CAN do just about anything you set before me, but that's not the point. I doubt the "coolness" of my character and hence my ability to really win over and work with youth. But that limited notion of myself was challenged by that week of camp where I was free to do it "my way" rather than within the binds of an aged congregation and how they see and understand youth ministry.
My diminished pastoral identity was also challenged this weekend while we were camping. I know I have good youth and that generally they like me, but I had no idea how much until this weekend when they wanted my stamp of approval on just about everything they did. I needed, or rather they needed me, to watch their dives, time their competitions, praise them when they won...and not only did they crave my attention, but they also wanted my participation. They wanted me to swim, play, hike, jump, dive, whatever with them. On more than one occasion when I thought of staying at the campsite while they went somewhere with another adult I had kids refuse to go unless I did. Not in an ornery way, but in a I-want-Debbie-to-go way. Needless to say, it was good for my ego! We had so much fun. And fortunately for me in the competitions, my body is a foot to a foot and a half longer than most of theirs, so that made it easier for me to win the swimming races and diving competitions!!!! Yay for being a full-grown adult! LOL.
So, I guess the sum of all that rambling is that it has been an edifying summer for me as far as youth ministry is concerned. It gives me hope for the possibilities of our youth program in the coming year(s) and helps prove my point that it is not about how "cool" you are, but about loving and respecting the kids!