what happens when youth ministry and life collide?
Let me share my story I am a Church Partner with YoungLife, meaning I work with junior and senior high students with our church and reach out to a local middle school. I have been with this church for 2 years now and it all started a little over a year ago.
It was at that time I felt God calling me to coach baseball at the local middle school to help with the overpopulated school that was understaffed. As I applied I was told there were already 4 coaches for a 2 coach position and the season was a month away. I said, No worries, and kept looking for other ways to get on campus. One week later the Athletic Director called me and said All the other coaches left, which just leaves you, if you want the job you got it. I eagerly took the position and began dreaming of how God would use this opportunity. One of the requirements for the position was that I get a routine physical. I called my doctor and set up the appointment. During the physical my doctor noticed an irregular spot on my back. He sent it to be tested and it came back positive for melanoma skin cancer. What? That can't be right. I'm just 25 years old with a wife and a child that needs me, a student ministry with students that need me, this just can't be right. However, the results were right and my family and I began preparing for a life of cancer, a life of unknowns, and a life of living each moment to it's fullest. This was one of the best things that could have happened to me and to our student ministry.
Our student ministry is fairly new, about 5 years old and I was starting my second year at this point. We were blessed with numerical growth throughout my first year and I feared that my being out with cancer for anytime meant major problems for our student ministry. I bought into the lie, that it was all about me, as if the students needed me, or my leadership, my talks, my anything. I often forgot that it was God's grace and not my works that blessed our ministry. Thus with this self-centered mentality I began fearing what would happen to the ministry as I battled this cancer for who knows how long. I forgot that it was His ministry, not mine. That He died for those kids, not me.
As I headed into surgery I had no other choice than to leave the ministry in God's hands and let the other youth leaders lead. Although I knew we had great leaders and I believed in them, I was the type of person who needed to work on delegating. I often thought I not only can do it all, but was the best person for every task. Being forced to lean on the leaders was exactly what we all needed, especially me.
While recovering from surgery I began hearing updates. The updates were very positive. I heard things like We didn't burn the church down, the students led worship and loved it, the leadership team grew more than ever, some leaders felt used for the first time and loved it. It seemed as if everyone had picked up a piece and ran with it. God had literally called up a whole ministry to leadership by one situation. A situation that was necessary for leadership to take place.
During the time I was out of commission our ministry grew in so many ways. It reminded me once again that our ministries can not be about a single person, place, or thing. I know a lot of us know this, but are we acting on it. Are we preparing our communities to be better even if we are not around? Would your ministry continue if you were to suddenly be gone for 6 months? Would students still be counseled and loved, leaders equipped and encouraged, parents served and respected? Would God's Kingdom continue to grow without you? Would discipleship still happen? What area of ministry do you need to teach to someone so that when God takes you through life, nothing falls through the cracks?
Now grant it, I know many ministries don't have a leadership team to work with. Let me encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself, what will this ministry look like in 10 years? Is what you're building bigger than yourself? Who will run the ministry when you are sick, on vacation, or move?
As for my cancer I awoke from surgery with my doctor explaining that my body was now cancer free. I said, Great, so you were able to get all the cancer out? The doctor replied that the biopsy alone was all they had needed to get out. But after retracting and studying the chunk of flesh from my back and armpit, the doctors had no explanation as to how there was no cancer in my body any longer. It seemed as if the biopsy was incorrect, but after checking it several times they determined it was correct. Still they just couldn't explain the sudden change and disappearance of the cancer. This is where it got good; from there I was able to assure the doctors what had happened. It was an intervention from God. This testimony made its way across my school, the church, and the school board, as well as the hospital. The circulation of what God had done amazed our community and grabbed the attention of the American Cancer Society. They were planning on doing a fundraiser at my school just months after my surgery and asked if I'd share my story and open the event with prayer. Little did I know that many other cancer survivors had been in the arms of Christ throughout their struggle and felt freed to share about it publicly after I had shared my story from the stage. People of all ages and with all stages of cancer were gathering around sharing what the Lord was doing through their struggle. One woman even rededicated her life to Christ as she was reminded of God's unfailing love and forgiveness.
This biggest thing I learned regarding student ministry is that Jesus' ministry exploded when he left. He had equipped His leaders to continue the ministry when he was absent. If we truly have a heart to reach our communities for Christ then we must do as John 3:30 says, He must increase, I must decrease. We must take ourselves out of the equation and put in place God and other leaders that have a heart for students. I knew this before the cancer but I didn't live it. For the betterment of your community and ministry don't just believe it start living it.
May the God that passes all our understanding equip, guide, nurture, anoint, and bless your ministry and community.
I also don't believe this would have worked out as it did without the amazing Christ-like love, support, and encouragement from my wife (TJ) and family, my church (Church of the Redeemer), and my community (Southside, Jacksonville, Florida). With all my heart I thank you for the love we share.