I did a very thankless and grueling ministry for the next 11 years. Youth ministry could be described to sports fans as college football recruiting, except, no one wants to come to your program. You come to them and plead...because you care. They almost always walk away from you laughing at you. But the real reason you stay is because some of them say yes. Usually, they are the most rejected ones. They are the ones who live invisible lives. They are looking for meaning anywhere. They are usually the ones abused for false pretenses.
I never came to anyone with false pretenses. I told them all that living as a Christian in this world would be hard. I told them that people will reject you because of your faith. I wasn't a good youth pastor in the eyes of many. I didn't look at the implications of some of the things I did. I didn't know how to make my vision happen. I didn't know how to make a small group of kids into a successful youth group that could withstand the endless cycle of teenagers. At this time, people demanded numbers in churches and youth groups. Everyone wanted a megachurch. People were wrong, and the right churches were dying because of it. They were being swallowed by megachurches with big production.
The church was always supposed to be about individual people, so that was my focus with these kids.
I taught them differently. I spoke to the teenagers like I would have when I was a teenager. I told them the unpopular truth; that life was gonna suck for some of them for a good amount of time. I told them that nothing that they wanted would come from faith alone. It all would come from hard work. I didn't believe that God dealt with handing out free successes to people that weren't trying. I wanted the kids to know that their value would be placed on how God sees them and how hard they worked to earn their place in whatever part of this world they chose to dwell. I used words sometimes that the "church" wouldn't approve of to reach them. I went a long distance to reach them.
I faced some criticism from some people in our congregation. Some of them wanted to see numbers to justify my employment. The numbers weren't bad at about 30 teenagers, but they didn't justify to them the 30 K that was being spent on me. I started at 30K and ended at 30K a decade and change later. It hurt at the time, but I can see it. People wanted to have a building they could call home and were frustrated with the transient church. They were tired. I was on the chopping block.
Meanwhile, the church was teeming with young men and women that had come through the youth group, serving those that wished to demolish it. It was absurd. But I couldn't take the heartbreak of having my low paying and thankless job in jeopardy of being cut every year for the desire for bricks. I went back to school out of fear and some common sense insight. I was going to be terminated because I couldn't be who some of them wanted me to be. It would happen eventually. I was wildly supported for the first few years, but I could not keep myself from the thought that I was not valued as a minister to the teenagers of our community. I didn't know how to convince them otherwise.
Then something happened that ended my hopes of keeping the career I had loved so much and hoped to keep forever. My best friend took his life. Part of the difficulties with taking on the role of trying to help troubled youth, is that you have to learn to lose them. I lost a lot of them and I had tried so hard not to. But losing my best friend to suicide; the best friend that had protected me from suicide... that broke me. I lost faith in everything. His name was Will. He always loved me unconditionally.
Whatever drive or passion I had to continue being the youth pastor that focused on troubled kids was evaporated. I was evaporated. I wasn't the person my wife had married. I was angry and right back in the same angry place I was when I had started. I was lost. I obviously couldn't do the job anymore, so I quit because it hurt so bad to try. It was like a fake and stupid betrayal of what I was actually feeling to tell these kids that life gets better. I had forgotten that life isn't supposed to get better. Just like a stupid American would.
It wasn't out of anger or resolve. I just couldn't do it anymore. This was my dream job. I can honestly tell you that I haven't been happy since. But I could not lie. I could not continue being passionate about things I didn't know if I believed anymore. It was gut wrenching to leave the service beside 2 of the most honest, kind, and intelligent pastors I could imagine. It hurt so bad that I accepted the reaffirmation of my position and had to go back and decline later. My heart was spilling over and I didn't know how to cope with feeling out of control.
Before I realized God...at my lowest point in my entire life: I laid on some train tracks. Miracles happened to save me. I had spent so much time trying to figure out what and why I was alive. I had to finally admit that God loved me. It was hard to do that because I was born with 2 strikes against me it seemed. I never caught a break. Then out of no where, I got everything I had ever wanted. I got this wife who has laughed with me in every joy, and held my head up in all of these sorrows. She is an angel. I got these kids that are perfect to me, no matter what they do. It gives me a better picture of the grace of God.
I tried to recover. I couldn't. A few years later, after so much turmoil, Joe would kill himself too. Another brother. Another reason to believe that life is a cruel joke that gives you your dreams, then strips them from you like some prank where everyone is laughing but you.
So I stayed away.
I tried to work on Sundays. I tried to make any plans I could on Sundays, so I wouldn't have to go. Sometimes I would just lay in bed staring at the ceiling. But every once in a while, I would go to church on Sunday. Every single time, I felt joy in my heart. I felt the desire to let it go and fall into wherever God is taking me. I wanted so badly to embrace what I let go. I miss them. I cannot seem to fix the things that have been broken in me. In my heart, there was resentment, unforgiveness, and anger. I didn't want to go because I didn't want anything to do with God. Because He was disassembling me again, when I was happy. I felt as though God had hurt me.
I guess this throws a wrench in my understanding of God and who He is related to who I am. To put it frankly, He is a perfect God and I am an idiot who doesn't understand what's even happening to me; because I cannot find a way to be perfect. This is sin. This is the very reason I sought to help those kids. I wanted to take profoundly imperfect kids and let them see a God that sees them perfectly. Like I once did.
Thanks for reading...Z