Friday, August 29, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

So, I have found my new favorite thing. It is Simply Youth Ministry's Simply Text. This is a great program that is helping me stay connected with my students in a great way. It is set up where with my student's name, cell phone number and cell phone provider, I can send group text messages to them throughout the week. It has been fun to send encouraging words to them.

I signed up for the free trial and then just stayed. If the kids in your Student Ministry are anything like mine, you know that texting is the sole communication many of them use. I am glad I got my new Palm Treo because now I can type using a qwerty keyboard. My fingers are becoming bloddy nubs as I am texting students ALL THE TIME! It is amazing some of the questions they will test me. Just this week I have been asked, "when do you stop praying about your life and start living it instead?" and "Why is fasting important?" Not easy to answer in a text conversation but I am trying! I am excited that students are communicating with me in any way.

Simply Text has really helped me start to reach out to students who I don't have close relationships with. It gives me a chance to let them know that I am thinking about and praying for them. One day this week I listed a Scripture reference and some questions to think about. Just today I wrote them and sent a reminder about living out the Truths of Wednesday's YG message. I am loving it!

It is reasonably priced. I am using the medium package which is $20 a month. I can have up to 100 contacts and send sixty group texts a month. I can also send unlimited single texts to individual students. It gives us the capability for up to three leaders to use it! Sweet! The plans start at $10 a month for smaller contact lists. You can't beat that with a cell phone text plan!

Okay, I am beginning to sound like a Youth Ministry geek, so I guess that is it. But this is a cool feature and I can already see how it is helping our ministry to encourage students!

I am also excited that I am all signed up for both the Lifeway National Youth Worker's Convention and the Youth Specialties Convention in Nashville! I can't wait. The Lifeway one will probably be more intimate but I NEVER miss the YS one! It is the best! Yipee!

And from my friend Len's blog:

HUH? And yes, sadly, this is real!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

Youth Specialties is asking people to submit their "story" to them over the next few weeks. God has done so much in my life over the past few years! Here is mine:

From Burnout to Blessing

In the winter of 2004 I left student ministry. I was burnt out. I was tired of church politics. I was tired of the strain on my family life. I was tired of giving and giving and never feeling like I was being invested in. I was tired of not growing spiritually. I was over being a Youth Pastor. I remember the difficult decision to resign. I had been a Youth Pastor for fourteen years. I wasn’t sure I knew how to do anything else. I just knew that I was at a place that it all had become too much and I wanted out. I recall sitting in my office with our Associate Pastor’s daughter, who had just graduated from our group, and saying, “I don’t know if I will ever be in ministry again”. She wept as I said those words but my heart was hard and I just sat there with a longing to be away from church life altogether. I felt abandoned by God and left alone. As I had worked in the church all those years, my spiritual life became stagnant. I was drifting away. The hard thing was, I wasn’t sure I cared.

After resigning from the ministry, we moved across the country from Maine back to our home state of Missouri. My wife and I moved into the small basement of my parent’s home. We had no jobs. We had no money saved. We just left ministry and security behind. At that point in my life, not having a job was better than having a job in the church. The first few weeks, it felt great to not be in the middle of church stuff. It was great not to be “required” to attend a service. We knew we needed to find a church home but I am not sure we were in a great hurry to do so.

My wife and I had compiled a list of the things we wanted in a church and we were fine shopping for awhile. We visited a church not far from my parent’s home and after a few weeks decided that it fulfilled the list of requirements we had.

We hadn’t really consulted God on HIS requirements. We spent three months at the church, crying in every service. Our hearts were broken over the hard time we had spent in ministry. We needed to heal. We weren’t making friends at the church. Even though on paper it was everything we thought we wanted, it lacked the soul to become our home.

During those three months, I had accepted a job with a rental car agency and was miserable. My wife had found a job that she enjoyed and that just made it worse. I suffered through and often found myself wondering if there would be no more joy in my life. Had I disappointed God? Did he think I deserved to rot in my disappointment?

The worst part was, I was realizing I was not complete if I wasn’t in ministry. Although they were rusty, the strings of my heart were designed to minister to students. I recalled the movie Chariots of Fire and the scene where Eric Liddell is telling his sister that when he runs he sense God’s pleasure. I was discovering that deep down, when I was ministering to students, that was the time when I felt God’s pleasure.

But I had quit my job and left those days behind me. I struggled to reconcile the two parts of me. On one hand I was relieved to be done with ministry; on the other, I think I knew I would be happy doing nothing else. There was this war inside me. I wasn’t sure which of my feelings was correct.

That’s when my friend Jeff called. He said that he had an opening for a full-time summer staff person to join his student ministry team. I was apprehensive and excited at the same time. The church he served was well known as a great church in our local denominational circles. I doubted God could use me in such a strong place when I was so weak. I also wondered if this was what I really wanted. I would be stepping back, even if it was just for a summer, into the world I had completely denounced just a season before. In the end I went. I think my ill feelings for working at the rental car agency, where I couldn’t be creative or spontaneous, won out. I thought ministry would be the lesser of two evils.

After spending that summer in ministry the torn nature of my spirit got even worse. I loved being with the kids but couldn’t shake the feeling of God being finished with me. I felt like I had gotten far away from Him and His will and that was the end of the dream of being a Youth Pastor. I accepted a job teaching high school. I still liked working with teens, I just wasn’t sure I could minister to them anymore.

Another struggle that was going on inside of me was after almost 15 years as a “professional Christian” I was frightened that I had no idea how to just be a man of God. All of my life I had been a pastor or at least a pastor’s kid. I realized that I had no idea how to just be a man of God in the pew.

After the summer church job ended, we returned to our “ideal” church and did our best to fit in. After several months, we still hadn’t made friends or felt like part of the family there. I returned to the church where I had spent my summer because I knew that we could be friends with the Youth Pastor and his wife. I never would have imagined how much that one decision would change our lives.

Slowly I began to acclimate to youth ministry again. My friend valued my opinions and ideas. Although, I taught school as a living, I was able to contribute on a high level to the vision and implementation of this ministry. Jeff trusted me with areas of responsibility and together we began to build up the group.

It was during this time that God was starting to remind me what a privilege full-time ministry can be. As I taught in the workplace everyday, God was working on me to show me what life was like outside the “church bubble”. I was challenged to finally live what I had been telling my students to do for years. I had to fit my quiet time into a busy schedule. I had take opportunities to share Christ in a secular world. I had to be a missionary on my campus. I had to realize how hard all of those things are.

Over the next three years as I continued to teach, God gave me back a burden for ministry. As I worked full-time at our church each summer, I could sense God’s gentle leading back into His work. He was restoring me. He had been taking those three years to teach me so much about not being a “professional Christian” and just being a Christ Follower. He helped me understand that my relationship with Him is what should define me as a person, not what I do for Him.

Last fall Jeff was called to be a Senior Pastor at another area church (we refer to this as the time he defected to the dark side J). When he left, the HR committee at our church trusted me to fill in the gap as they searched for the next Youth Pastor. I continued to teach full time and serve as the Interim Youth Pastor at Parkway. I began more and more to sense a call to serve there full time.

The enemy did all he could to discourage me and place doubt in my mind but God’s gentle grace was so much more powerful. As I talked with the search committee, there were those who were not sure that just because I was already at the church, that I was the best choice for the position. After several meetings where God helped me share my passion for these teens and this ministry, the committee also felt the leading of the Holy Spirit that said I was the man God had chosen to lead these teens.

On March 9th, 2008, God called me to be the full-time Youth Pastor here. I had to finish out the school year and came on full-time staff permanently on June 1st. This past summer was amazing. I saw God break and change this group. I saw Him raise the bar in their lives. I saw kids accept the call of God to be closer to Him. It was such a confirmation that God is not through with me yet. Like Eric Liddell, I could once again sense God’s pleasure as He watched me do what I was created to do.

One of my favorite parts of this story is that I got to hire a summer staff member this year and God returned me to that dark place in Maine to find that person. One of my former students from that ministry came and worked side by side with me for the summer. It was amazing to watch him minister to my “new kids”.

As I sit here today I see his time in St. Louis as a gift to me. God has shown me that my labor in the Northeast had not been in vain. I get reports from time to time that encourage me that the five years I spent there were spent well. Students are growing still and reference the years of our ministry there as what set them on course. I am proud of the guys who have started to pursue ministry and the students there who are just living a Godly life in their world. It wasn’t about me but about Him. Even when I was burned out, God kept a candle burning in their hearts.

Today I sit in my office, the first fall of being back in full-time ministry and reflect on all God has done. He is allowing me to be on staff at an incredible church where I never would have believed I could be. I am working with incredible sold out teenagers who are learning to long for more of God and less of themselves.

It amazes me that even when I was ready to give up, He continued to use me. It amazes me that when I was done, he wasn’t. I take the lessons learned in the last three years and say that God does have a plan for me. I say that God will use me to affect teen lives for Him. I say that I hope I will never again take that for granted.