For nearly 18 years I have worked with teenagers as either a volunteer, part-time person, intern, or full-time staff person. I have spent the past 11 years serving teenagers at Grace Community Church. I can honestly say that I am a better person because of it. Well, my "official" time in youth ministry will be coming to a close this fall as I transition to another role in our church.
The above picture is me and the 13 kids that were a part of axis in the fall of 2002. I could still talk to you about each one of them and am thankful to still keep in touch with several of the ones in that picture. In fact, one of the girls in the picture, Whitney, serves in our youth ministry today and does and amazing job focusing on our freshman girls. Another girl in the picture, Kelsey, was the first person I met at Grace community 11 years ago. She was a tiny 7th grade girl and I met her, her mom, and her brother in the church parking lot as I was coming to my first day at the office. She, her husband, and their daughter are a part of our small group now. In 11 years I have so many memories ... so many faces of teenagers ... so many stories.
It's not that I'm burnt out on youth ministry or on teenagers. If anything, this year has increased my love for teenagers and boosted my confidence in them and what God can accomplish through them. But, I can almost pinpoint the time that I first "felt" God nudging my spirit about this. It was October 2011 and I can't really explain it but I just felt a "nudge" or a "whisper" in my spirit that God may be leading me in a different direction. I pretty much kept it to myself. I wasn't exactly sure what I was hearing from God at the time, but I knew it was something I needed to spend a lot of time praying about. So, after spending lots of time in prayer and not losing that sense that God wanted me in a different role, I knew it was time to start taking steps in that direction.
All of this has brought with it, though, a roller coaster of emotions. 11 years ago, I was the first full-time youth pastor the church hired. For 11 years, axis has, in a sense, been my "baby." I have done my best to love our kids, to provide for them opportunities to know and serve God, to train them up as best as I knew how. I have laughed with kids, cried with kids, been angry at kids and have had them be angry with me. I've joked with them, played pranks on them, had my underwear frozen by them, been over to their homes late at night to help with a crisis ... and they've been over to my home late at night to TP my house. I've gone on trips with them, been to countless school events for them, taught them what God had been teaching me, and I've seen them do things that have completely blown me away and caused me to say "Wow! God, that was awesome!" I've written hundreds of letters, have probably sent thousands of texts, and, over 11 years, have waited a total of several hours in the parking lot for that one last student to be picked up.
I will miss my kids. My prayer is that I can stand before God confident that I have "done some good." I think I have, but ultimately I am not to be the judge of that. I trust the teenagers that I've crossed paths with are better people because they were a part of our youth ministry. I know I am a better person because of working with them. They have truly been a blessing in my life. They've helped keep me young and helped make me feel old at the same time. For 18 years, youth ministry is the only ministry that I have known. I'm excited about a new chapter and new challenges ... kind of nervous about taking on a new role ... ready to allow God to do through me what I'm incapable of doing on my own ... and saddened because teenagers will no longer be a regular part of my life (until my kids become teenagers and I'm asking our youth pastor all the questions that parents currently ask me!)
I'm sure I'll continue to post some thoughts and reflections as they come to me. For now, here are just a few of the memories I have from axis:
A picture from our "Mess Fest." It's amazing how awful the smell of ketchup and mustard can have! This has always been one of our most fun events, though.
We were introduced to Kalahari a few years ago. It's been a large part of our ministry since then and such a great time to connect with teenagers and see God work in their lives.
It may surprise you, but if I could have a "secret" job, it would be as an actor on Broadway. But, since I have no acting talent or ability to sing and dance, that won't be happening any time soon. But, for 6 years we have done an interactive drama at Halloween and have seen hundreds of people come to know Jesus through it. This past year was one of our best! Thankfully, we have a lot of people much more gifted than me at this type of stuff. I just sort of show up and act like I know what I'm doing. Hmmm ... maybe I could work on Broadway. :)
Momentum is our summer conference we go to every year. I've been a part of Momentum since the 8th grade and, I believe this will be my 25th year going to Momentum. Always so much fun and I have seen teenagers impacted so powerfully at this conference. God uses it in their lives. That's why we go and do all we can to get teenagers there. And, on a lighter note, I have loved implementing "dress up" days for the teenagers in our group. This was "mis-match" day last year. I feel it's important to intentionally look foolish a few times a year. It helps us not to take ourselves too seriously and just to have some fun.
The above picture is of Dan Cosentino and his fiance Kim. He will be joining our team this fall as our new youth pastor and I'm totally pumped about it! Dan is incredibly gifted and I can't wait to see how God uses his gifts here! I hope that my 4 kids get to grow up under his leadership. He will be a great addition to our staff.