I woke up this morning with a contradictory thought in my head:
I think I’m most effective in my job when I don’t realize that I’m doing my job.
Let me back up and explain. Since our confirmation group moved up to high school this year, my small group co-leader and I decided to move up with them. Dawn and I both feel like these girls are family to us, and we’ve seen the Holy Spirit work so powerfully in our relationships that we made the committment to be their small group leaders for another four years–which, if you’re doing the math, adds up to six years total of hangin’ with the same girls.
Yep. We love ‘em.
So, this committment to our small group is what moved me into high school ministry on top of my actual job, which is middle school ministry. Basically, I’m now doing ministry to 5th through 12th graders–which is something I love, because I appreciate so many different things about these different age groups. This is what I was trained for, really–to do intergenerational, lifespan ministry.
Added bonus: free pizza is now practically a staple in my life.
Anyway, after our Refuel high school small groups last night, I had a few kids ask me for rides home. Oakville is a pretty small town (face it, folks, it is–don’t give me more of that “You’re from California, you don’t understand the Midwest” mumbo-jumbo as an excuse!), so I don’t mind dropping them off.
However, when I climbed into my car stuffed to the brim with kids, I found myself unthinkingly doing ministry as I drove the various kids home. It was like suddenly their arms failed at carrying the weight of the world, and all their real thoughts and frustrations came tumbling out as we scissored across Oakville. I found myself listening and counseling, consoling and giving advice, and talking about God and the big picture of life as we drove.
As I dropped the last student off and sat talking to her in her driveway, listening to her tearfully pouring her feelings out, I realized suddenly that I was no longer talking. Instead, the Holy Spirit was prompting me to have insights and say things that she needed to hear. I have no other explanation for the eloquent and meaningful answers that came out of my sleep-deprived, utterly exhausted brain.
I drove home, pondering the fact that I thought my ministry was done when we wrapped up our small group time in prayer earlier that evening. I know that God is all around, and that there’s never a wrong time to talk about Him–but I guess I figured the kids would be their usual chaotic selves as I drove them home. I didn’t expect them to be so honest–to be transparent in their struggles–to be listening to each other and sharing their feelings so willingly in my car.
I really think they wanted to go deeper, to talk more about their faith and their lives, for even longer than we gave them. And that made me realize that I, as a youth leader, need to pick up on that and give them opportunities to go deeper. Otherwise, I’m stunting them.
It reminded me of the first time I realized I loved talking about spirituality and faith. I was a junior in high school, and I was sitting in the sunlit library at my school, chatting with five other guys. I don’t remember the specifics of what we were talking about–I know it was Lutheran theology and prayer–but I remember the scene vividly.
I remember getting an overwhelming feeling of peace and contentedness. I remember looking around the room, tangibly realizing the many blessings God had given me. I remember looking at the faces of the guys I was debating with and thinking, “I could do this for the rest of my life.”
I remember walking away after over an hour, marveling at how much that one conversation about faith impacted my entire week. And now, looking back, I realized that this one conversation started me down a path that ended up with me becoming a Director of Christian Education–a position that allows me to share my faith all the time.
I think the reason I feel like I’m most effective in my job when I don’t realize that I’m doing it is because that’s when the Holy Spirit is flowing through me uninterrupted. That’s when my ego doesn’t get in the way. It’s in those moments that I’m not worried about saying the wrong thing, or overthinking things. God’s Words of comfort just flow naturally, and I don’t even need to analyze or think of what to say–it’s just there, at the tip of my tongue.
As a church worker, there are plenty of dangerous temptations out there. It’s so easy to overanalyze and doubt sharing God’s Truth–because sometimes it convicts, and drives people away. It’s easy to forget how insignificant you really are, as you’re standing up in front of hundreds of people and wielding a microphone in your hand. It’s easy to put yourself in front of God, and to hog the stage instead of letting Him be the focus.
I’ve met so many church workers who’ve fallen into these holes and wear their identities on their sleeves:
“I’m a martyr. I don’t get paid enough for what I do.”
“You can’t ever possibly understand what my job is or how hard I work.”
“Of course I can dabble in this–I have to be real, don’t I?”
“I need those kids to complete me.”
As it says in 1 Peter 4:11, “Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies.” What it really boils down to for me is this: God doesn’t need me; He simply works through me. And I suspect maybe the best way to let Him work through me is to just shove myself out of the way, as often as I can.
All of this from one night of driving kids home…pretty impressive, huh?