It’s difficult to forget the smell of carpet that you’ve wept into.
My family had moved in with my in-laws—into a small modular home while trying to figure out my next step in ministry. The pastor at the church I’d just left said I hadn’t grown the youth group fast enough: his goal was 200 within two years… I’d only nurtured it from 35 students to 179 in that time. Apparently that was a failure, and I was now jobless.
To add fuel to the fire, I’d experienced a significant letdown in ministry three years before that. I was forced to resign from a church because I didn’t vote for a new senior pastor who’d forced his way into leadership from his staff role. Between both experiences, I had a lot of reasons to hate the idea of church, and ministry in general.
So why was I weeping?
I’d just received a phone call from a friend who served at the church where the senior pastor had nudged me out years earlier. He shared how they were in an unexpected crisis since the senior pastor had just been mandated to take a leave of absence due to an addiction issue he’d been hiding. The church hoped he’d be personally and professionally restored, but had an immediate need for someone to fill the pulpit. My friend asked if I’d be willing to be a guest speaker for a few weeks.
“Absolutely,” I replied without thinking about it. As we hung up the phone, though, I found myself sitting in silence for a few moments.
- I expected to feel justified.
- I expected to feel judgmental.
- I expected to feel like a Savior.
Crumbling to the carpet, I instead began to weep from a place deep inside of me that was surprisingly broken in all the right places. Even though I hadn’t been a part of this flock for at least three years, I felt its pain.
Apparently, I was having my own crisis.
During the three years that had passed (and including what had happened at the church I’d just left), I’d realized some things:
- You can’t always control how other people respond to you, but you can control how you will respond to them: If another Christian chooses to act with immaturity or selfishness, that’s his/her sin; if I choose to hold resentment or gossip about it instead of work it out in accordance with Matthew 18, that’s my sin. It’s why I eventually had conversations with both pastors from those churches to resolve past issues.
- Immaturity that you see in others may keep you from seeing immaturity in you: As I shared in last week’s post, it’s easy to become so self-righteous about what matters most that you become blinded to what actually matters most. Who really calls you out on your blind spots?
- The local church is a part of the Church: Any Christ-centered congregation is a mixture of “God and humanity,” which means it has all the positive potential of God and all the negative potential of humanity. You have to choose which piece you will nurture. I get the sense the Lord loves it when we help his Bride stand up after she’s fallen over.
I showed up for my first week of teaching and loved on people. I did this again the second and third weeks. By that point, the former senior pastor gave every indication he wasn’t going to return. The church asked if I would be its interim senior pastor—a ministry that I took on for nine months. There was talk at one point about offering me the role of senior pastor, but I excused myself from that discussion to help clean the slate for someone else.
After that experience, another church called me up and asked me to serve them as an interim pastor. They had their own crisis and heard how I’d helped the other congregation. I served them for six months and watched God grow my heart even more for His Church and its future.
You may yearn to be a specialist who gets a nice office or a padded paycheck, or even a volunteer who finds worth in never going anywhere. Sometimes God simply wants you running from one random explosion to another in order to tend to the wounded and raise them back up to health. This is full of stress, but if that’s where you’re needed then that’s where you’re needed… whether you’re directly working with teenagers, or simply helping the Church itself have a healthier future.
That’s the ironic ending to this story for me… a new beginning. I’m now a Lead Pastor intent on helping adults care about students, while at the same time volunteering in my church under our youth pastor’s leadership in order to still personally impact teenagers. Your story may not end up as mine did, but I wonder if it will end up as you’re planning it to.
Let the next crisis break you in all the right places… even if it means you end up smelling Jesus in the carpet.
Thank you for loving students!
Psst! He’s also a breakout session leader extraordinaire at Simply Youth Ministry Conference