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?
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.
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.
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.