My Dirty Little Secret

One year ago today, I had been working at Accretive Health for a week. After a long and fruitless job search last fall, I had a wonderful friend who passed my resume along to friends of hers in the business world, and one such friend decided I was worth an interview (and, ultimately, worth hiring). One year ago, pleased that I had found a job to fill the time between internship and my first call, I was celebrating my first week of work when the phone rang. It was Hector from the synod office, calling to tell me that he had paperwork to give me from a potential first call church. It was a crazy feeling, having just been hired at one job, and nearly instantly beginning the long process of interviewing at a church that ultimately ended up being my first call church, St. Timothy Lutheran Church.

I spent many hours in conversation with the staff and call committee at St. Tim's. On paper, we were a perfect match: I have a passion for youth ministry, social ministry, and liturgy, and St. Timothy was looking for someone to specialize in youth/family ministry and social ministry, all the while being open and sensitive to the importance of worship and creativity therein. Perfect. Perfect enough that I had great interviews with the staff and with the call committee, and perfect enough that (thanks be to God!) they extended me the call.

I'm now five months into this call. I love it - I love what I'm doing, I love the people I'm serving, I love the youth I get to work with. I feel like I'm starting to build trust with the high schoolers, and that I'm starting to build relationships with the junior high schoolers. I'm also working to build up good relationships and trust with the parents of these youth.

All of this is proving exceptionally rewarding. I'm growing as a person and as a pastor, and I'm growing into the joy of being able to do youth ministry in a long-term situation (not limited to a summer like when I interimed at St. Paul, not limited to a year like when I was on internship). But I'm also feeling the pressure of having people who have real expectations of me, of my ministry, and of my work.

My dirty little secret? I'm not convinced that I'm really any good at youth ministry. I love the youth, I love planning events and lessons for them, I think that I'm pretty decent at the thought and theory and planning part of youth ministry. But I'm not sure that I'm any good at implementation. I'm not at all the same mix of energy and charisma and cool that I remember all of my youth leaders being when I was in junior high and high school. I'm, frankly, a big dork. And I'm not sure that I'm a big dork in a "it's cool to be a big dork" sort of way. I'm still learning how to be a good youth ministry leader, not just a good youth ministry theorist.

I'm still learning how to keep from being bothered when kids don't like me, or when they don't think I'm cool (yes...my own junior high insecurities seem to have resurfaced...). I'm still learning how to keep from getting defensive when parents misunderstand or challenge the reasons and motives behind the structure of our youth program. I'm still learning how to consider it a blessing when the majority of people have a positive experience, rather than focusing on the handful who are unhappy.

Duh. I know better. I know that not everyone will like me all the time, or even some of the time, or perhaps even ever. I know that I cannot make everyone happy all the time every time. I know that I don't know everything and I know that it's always going to be a high stakes situation when I'm doing something as intimate as faith formation in our current youth culture, which is defined by uncertainty and questioning, and in our current parent culture, which trends toward over-protectiveness and over-involvement.

But here, a year after starting to learn about St. Timothy, and here, five months after starting at St. Timothy, I'm doing my best to learn and grow and see in myself what that call committee saw in me. I'm doing my best to learn how to be a good pastor to the congregation, a good leader to the youth, and a good influence in the eyes of the parents. I'm working on toughening my skin and on seeing the blessings in my life and ministry, even when it's easier to see the difficulties. I'm learning how to be a good sociologist and psychologist, rather than just a good spiritual director.

So my real dirty little secret is this: I still have lots of learning and growing to do, and I hope that those whom I serve and those with whom I work will be patient with me as I work toward being ever a better pastor to, with, and among them.

1 comment:

  1. I serve a small church (about 160 active members, average about 60 a week in church) and I have two teenage daughters and a couple of younger sons. I tried to get a youth group going here a couple of years ago. My girls and one other boy were very committed and gung ho and a few others showed up once in a while. We kind of let things go after a few months and we've had a lapse of about a year.

    I grew up in an active youth group and even found my wife there. I'd like for my kids to have a similar great experience with it, but I don't think I'm exactly gifted in running/leading/planning/organizing a youth group.

    So I've asked another young woman (in her 30s) who grew up in the youth group in this church some years ago if she'd be interested in being the leader. I've offered to attend, to help out, to lead devotions or some kind of spiritual content. Maybe the kids will relate better or at least differently to a laywoman than they do to the pastor.

    I gather from your writings and your pictures that you're in your early to mid 20s and I know from other younger pastors that they get frustrated because people think that because they're young then they'll automatically be great with youth. I remember our bishop talking at a funeral for an old pastor how that myth was disproved by this old guy who was just great with the youth after he'd already retired from active ministry.

    We're gifted in different ways. Your dirty little secret might just be true. Maybe you're great at visiting with elderly and shut-in members or you're a terrific preacher or a good administrator. That doesn't mean you have to or even should stop working with youth. It's an important ministry, but maybe having some other adult leaders working with you who are gifted at working with youth will help.