Monday, August 21, 2017

What Does This Mean For Me?

As I shared last week, the Nier household has been in full-on celebration mode. The Nier children have completed the first week at schools they didn't think they'd be attending. We are not moving from a house we thought for sure we'd be selling. And my wife is happily getting settled in at her new job.

Many congratulations were given (thanks, friends!) but several asked me the inevitable question.

So what does this mean for you?

Believe me, that is a question I have been asking myself since I first announced I was resigning. And since June, the question has loomed like a large cloud over every one of my days.

From certain people, I could hear the questions they were perhaps too afraid to ask out loud. Are you trained to do anything besides play with teens and work one day a week? I write that, tongue planted in cheek, but don't be fooled. I've asked it of myself. What does a guy, who has only ever wanted to be a youth pastor, do when he is no longer a youth pastor?

What does this mean for me? When I first resigned my position, people asked if I'd be looking for a senior pastor position somewhere. I scoffed and said I would never turn to the dark side (with apologies to all my senior pastor friends). I have been and remain of the mindset that youth ministry is a specialty ministry that is still very much needed. I believe we need mature (insert your own joke here) and experienced youth pastors (read: in their 40's and older) who still love teenagers enough to continue on.

I thought for sure, seeing hundreds of churches looking for youth pastors, that I would be employed in this area before the summer was over. But now we all know that didn't happen.

Now that my wife is employed (at a church), what does this mean for me? What does this mean for my own calling? Was I hearing God incorrectly? Did I misunderstand?

While I clearly have stopped looking for paid youth ministry positions around the country, I won't stop being involved in youth ministry. Every healthy youth ministry has volunteers, and as I encouraged my own volunteers through the years, what they do has incredible impact.

I said when I stepped out in faith to look for a new job, that I was practicing what I had preached. I will do the same in this area, and volunteer where I worship.

Make no mistake, I still need to find something to do during the week for someone who will trade me income for services rendered. The wife doesn't want a house-husband. I think that's mostly because I don't fold the towels properly, or something like that.

So I am still praying for what's next. I am encouraging anyone who will listen to do the same. And not just about me. There are things going on in your life.

Transitions. Questions. Direction change. A call to be involved and serve. A desire to renew connections. Perhaps even a pause to remember what makes you tick and renews your strength.

So what does this mean for you?

Monday, August 14, 2017

I Never Saw This Coming

Seven months ago, I never saw this coming. We had just told our kids that we were going on an adventure, one that began with informing the church we'd been a part of for 15 years that God was moving us elsewhere.

We told our kids that we didn't know yet where we were going, but that we would trust God to lead us where He wanted us. We acknowledged there would be difficult parts of this adventure. We knew saying goodbye to friends would be hard. My wife and I prayed about the transition and what impact it would have on our children.

There were parts of this adventure I'd have preferred not to have experienced. There were hard conversations, doubts, lots of prayer and more conversations. I've shared some of the experiences here, here and here. Actually, there's a few more, but you can find them for yourself. I wouldn't want to be accused of over-linking.

The entire time, whenever I prayed, I told God an answer would be a good thing, because He would receive the glory. Well, my friends, that day has arrived.

There were a lot of things I didn't foresee coming through this adventure.

  • I didn't know friends would bless us with gifts like they did to help us through.
  • I didn't know one friend in particular would even think to provide us some tickets to go mini putt-putt, because she knew we hadn't really done any fun excursions.
  • I didn't know I'd be blessed to spend so much time with my family. Although there were a few times Jen might have put blessed in parentheses. Apparently I can be the gift that gives too much sometimes.
  • We've played a lot of board games this summer, but we also found lots of extra time to help some friends with some projects.
  • I didn't know someone would think enough of our daughter to pay her way to a youth group trip. Where, by the way, she recommitted her life to Christ.
  • I didn't know someone would think of me and offer me money to do some demolition work.

Through all of these blessings, I searched for a youth ministry position. I worked the process and I moved at the pace of multiple churches, who seemed to be taking their sweet time, only to inform me they had chosen someone else.

And that's when it happened. Just a couple of weeks ago, an email invitation was given to apply for a job locally. Job descriptions and resumes were shared, interviews were completed, prayers were prayed and a call was received.

My wife is the new Children's Ministry Director at Mission Point Community Church (for you local readers). She starts this week.

Yeah, I never saw this coming.

Monday, July 31, 2017

That's How You Train a Toddler

Trust Me.

That was the message God gave us. Trust Me.

Anything else, God? 


I mean, God I am trusting you. I took this first step in faith. It wasn't easy. Perhaps you would like to expound further upon what you want me to do, to learn, to experience?

Nope. Just. Trust. Me.

I'm learning that asking to have more faith or trust in God is akin to asking for more patience. There's only one way to get it, and it's going to take time.

So while I am waiting, I have been reading about Moses and the Israelites in the book of Exodus. I knew this would give me both good and bad examples of how to learn to trust in God.

The Bad Example: The Israelites

In Exodus 19, we learn that their trek from Egypt to Mount Sinai had taken 'exactly two months.' Have you ever considered some of the timeline of the Israelites and their transition from Egypt to the Promised Land? Yeah, we're familiar with the fact that it ended up taking 40 years, due to their rebellion, but consider some of their actions in response to what they saw from God.

Exactly two months ago, they experienced the ten plagues. We walk around talking about this being a hot summer or a cold winter and some of us remember things like that from year to year. Had we experienced even one of the plagues, I would think that might be something that would be fresh on our minds for two months, at least.

In that same two month period, the Israelites also experienced the crossing of the Red Sea, the crushing of Pharaoh's army (in that same sea), quail being hand delivered, manna appearing on a daily basis, and (oh yeah) God leading them in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

They complained the entire time and continually questioned whether God was trying to kill them. Don't even get me started on what will happen when Moses leaves them alone for a few moments so he can meet with God. Speaking of Moses...

The Good Example: Moses

I know Moses isn't perfect, but if God was looking for someone who would be patient (most of the time), He found a winner in Moses.

Later in Exodus 19, God calls Moses up the mountain. Anyone who hikes or climbs mountains will tell you Moses doesn't get enough credit for this. We read Moses climbed the mountain as if it was just as quick and simple as pushing for a floor on an elevator. Mount Sinai was over 7,400 feet. This took some time and effort.

When Moses gets to the top, God meets Him and tells him to go back down to remind the Israelites to stay back from the mountain. Because God couldn't have given Moses that message at the base of the mountain?

Moses questions, but ultimately obeys and climbs back down the mountain. A few chapters later, God once again invites Moses to come up the mountain. We read in Exodus 24:15-18 that God covers the mountain in a cloud, which I imagine is the God-equivalent of closing an office door so you can have a private meeting.

But it says God didn't call out to Moses until he had been there seven days! Moses climbs the mountain (again!) and waits an entire week before God starts the meeting. Had this been a phone call, I might have hung up and told myself that they will call back if it's important.

Moses was content to wait on the voice of God.

Training a Toddler

If you parent a toddler, you no doubt find yourself repeating the same things over and over. Because that's what it takes to train a toddler.

Before we started this adventure, I prayed that God would make His will clear, because I wanted to be sure where He was leading us and what He was teaching us. So now when I continue to hear the one message, Trust Me, I guess I can't complain.

Because that's how you train a child.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Open My Eyes

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. ~Exodus 3:1
I have already acknowledged that it is I who must seek out God, no matter His purpose or His timing. Moses is a great example of this. He may not have intended to seek out God, but he found himself at the mountain of God. And that's when God started to move. God appears in the form of a bush that burned but didn't burn up. This intrigued Moses, and why not? But check out what happens next;
When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” ~Exodus 3:4
Do you see what's happening here? First, one had to go 'far into the wilderness' to get to the mountain of God. Too often we miss this and assume God can be accessed right around the corner. And while God is everywhere, I believe He wants us to make more effort to be where He is. But it's not just that. In verse 4, it appears that God waited to see if Moses would take the bait before calling out to him.

God had a clear mission for Moses. But before Moses would be given any direction, God waited to see if Moses was intrigued. Would Moses be watching? Would he be aware?

I am trying, during this transition between jobs, to learn whatever God wants me to learn, to grow however He wants me to grow. I want to walk clearly into the next season of life, knowing I have met with God. I want to know that the choice I make is the plan God lays out for me. I don't want to questions God's will for my life.

Did you know that while God was leading the Israelites through the desert, in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, the people still questioned His leading? In the midst of God displaying His great miraculous power, the people still questioned.

I have been praying, during my whole search for a next destination, for God to be clear in what and where He wants me next. I should have been praying that my eyes would be open to the God who is already showing Himself to me.

People have often said that if God would just make Himself obvious, they would obey Him. They would trust Him. They would put their hope in Him.

But God has seen evidence in men that that is simply not 100% true. If it wasn't true with people who plainly saw the evidence of a God, what kind of arrogance do I possess to think I would be any different?

So I will continue to journey, 'far into the wilderness', in order to meet with God. I will trust that He is in control of the details. And I will have one heck of a testimony to share on the other side.

Monday, July 17, 2017

On the Job Training

I would like some on-the-job training. This, of course, requires a job, which I don't currently have. It wouldn't even have to be that difficult. Hire me as your youth pastor. Show me the youth room. Introduce me to a few teens. I'll take it from there. 

And if God has some more lessons to teach me, He could certainly feel free to do so. Train me up while I am on the job. This makes sense to me, because then I would be providing for my family once again, our future would be more certain (certainly more than it is right now) and I could be passing along those lessons to any who would listen (or read, like you fine people!).

Why couldn't God do that? Maybe because He isn't as concerned with how my family will be taken care of as I am. Sounds scandalous, right? Did this guy just try to say he cares more than God?, that's not what I am saying. 

What I am saying is that I am more concerned. To be concerned means to worry. It means to have anxiety. So when I say I have more concern, it's not actually bragging. It's admitting weakness.

God has no need for concern because He knows He loves us and will certainly take care of us, as He has for all our days. It's not a concern for God because He doesn't rely on silly things like money to make things happen. I, however, have a limited scope of things and believe jobs must be had in order to have needs taken care of. How silly of me.

Jen and I have considered that we are learning some lessons while we wait out this transition. But I have often wondered if God knows about on the job training. Lots of companies do that, you know.

Then I remember that God does not see me as I see me. I see me as a youth pastor. He sees me as a child. It would be very easy for me to allow my age to cause me to think I am having some sort of midlife crisis. Obviously, I am too young to be mid-life. (I don't even believe that anymore, so I don't expect you to either.)

But it's not a crisis. Certainly not of the mid-life variety. I know what I would like to do. I know who I am, and to Whom I belong.

I'm not the first to go through this kind of transition. I've been reading through Exodus most recently, because Moses is another example of a guy who seemed to know what he was doing, until, of course, he didn't.

As you may know, Moses goes from Prince of Egypt to Top-10 Most Wanted. He finds himself living in another land, perhaps the best educated shepherd in all of history. Here's what we read in Exodus 3:1;
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God.
It struck me that Moses had to go 'far into the wilderness' in order to come to the mountain of God. God didn't meet Moses in Egypt, where life was comfortable. God didn't meet Moses at his new place in Midian, where Moses had at least gotten comfortable. God met Moses 'far into the wilderness.' 

I would like for this time of transition to be over. I would like to know where God is leading my family. But perhaps I have not gone far enough into the wilderness. And if God isn't concerned, then I don't have cause for concern either. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

During the Transition

In the book of Genesis, we find Jacob leaving the land God promised his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. Seems kind of an odd thing to do until you realize that Jacob is kind of the sleazeball of this family. Cheating his brother out of blessing and birthright has left Jacob with a sudden need to change zip codes. 

On his way out of town, he builds an altar to God, worships Him there and prays about his return to the Promised Land. Little did he know it would be 20 years before he ever saw this place again. 

Sleazeball though he was, Jacob understood God had a calling on his life. But what if, during the transition, Jacob had sat around and done nothing? What if he decided to simply wait until God handed him the next step? 

By reading several chapters, we can see that he would have missed out on having several kids, several kids which would become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, which is what God changed Jacob's name to when he returned to the Promised Land.  

I remain in what you may refer to as a transitional period. I am between jobs. I have no doubt God is working during this time, but I have been silent here for a few weeks, I think, because I was waiting for some grand finale which I could share. 

But I am coming to realize that most of life is transitioning from one point to another and that if I choose to wait, I might skip over many aspects which could be beneficial for others to hear and see. 

The truth is we should never find ourselves waiting for some future event in order to serve God. We should never wait to figure out what we should be doing. 

I thought I wanted to wait until some grand conclusion was reached. But that was expecting a type of fairy tale ending that only happens in the...well....fairy tales. Here in reality, God has given us all gifts and He expects us to use them. Not use them someday. Not use them when some mythical idea of ideal comes our way. 

We were made to serve. That's why one of my family's daily prayers has been for our eyes to be open to whomever and whatever need we might be able to fill that day. 

A friend said we should make ourselves a family of do-gooders and let God take care of us. Well, I'm still going to look for a job, but I think we can do both. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

15 Years

15 years. In most areas of life, that might not seem like a long time. But in the world of youth ministry, that can seem like a couple of lifetimes. I saw 7th graders become high school graduates and then repeated that cycle.

15 years. That's 780 Sundays, not accounting for vacations and other days missed for any number of reasons. Granted, in a church where many people have lived their whole lives in this community, I was still on the young side, but still, I became a mainstay.

It began in July of 2002 and ended just this year, in June of 2017. Now that I'm on the other side of it all, it seems that it was both all too brief while also, at times, felt much longer than it actually was.

There is so much that can be said, that I feel should be said, that it seemed appropriate to share in this space. Even if no one were to read this, I find that my thoughts find a way of easily being leaked through my fingers as I write.

15 years. What lessons would I pass along that I have learned?

Be thankful. 

I worked at a church that, at times, seemed to have more than its fair share of drama. But so many good things happened as well. It's so much more than viewing a glass as half empty or half full. The glass has always been full; of ups and downs, highs and lows, things to praise a God about and those to ask Him about.

I'm thankful for the people who supported me. For those who appreciated me. For those who built into me. For those who trusted me to accomplish something much larger than myself. For those who joined in with me, even when the ideas were crazy and had only a small chance of success.

Be resilient. 

You don't stay at a church, or perhaps any job, for 15 years without having a few opportunities to leave. For my wife and I, the first time would have been when our new home of just a few weeks didn't feel like our home.

The next hundred opportunities to leave came after as many moments of restlessness. But establishing a foundation of who you are and what core values you want instilled in your work only come after a willingness to see those values planted deep. And then watered and nurtured over and over again.

The opportunities to leave may, at times, seem like welcome release from whatever the current challenge has grown into, but staying through difficult times means you'll have opportunities to model things like reconciliation and forgiveness. And longevity means there will come a time when you go from asking questions about how things work to being asked about how you would like them to work.

Be willing.

I suppose this last lesson was also the latest lesson for me to learn. When we are comfortable, it can become difficult to learn. Oftentimes a push is needed. I had come to be known as the youth pastor who stuck around for so long that the idea of leaving almost seemed ludicrous.

Step out? Step away? God, don't you realize what I am trying to accomplish here? Don't you understand what I will lose if I leave?

Then God nudges me and asks me if I realize what I could gain by stepping out obediently in faith. And that, my friends, is when the peace beyond understanding takes over and you place your future in His hands.