Thank you to everyone who has come along for the ride, and a special thank you to Sherman, Ken, Jacob, Doug and everyone that has been part of the journey so far.
Of all the post so fsr in this series, this is the most personal one because it’s one of the questions I have struggled with the most in recent years. So if you have been reading along, this post will feel a bit different than the rest because I want to tell you about my journey and challenge you with this question, is what you “do” who you are?
For years, my good friend, mentor and all-around amazing human Randy Carter has, on a fairly regular basis, asked me the following question whenever we talk – “How’s your heart?“
This is the first question he asked me when I lost my job as a Youth Pastor back in June 2019. He was also not the only one to ask me that question, but whenever I was asked, I always replied with the same answer: “Though I don’t like or agree with the situation, my heart has been at peace.“
This response caught a lot of people off guard because the reality is that people expected me to be angry, frustrated and frankly pissed off. Because I had lost my identity, my job, my title and my influence. From the world’s perspective, I lost everything. I had every right to be negative and kick up a fuss on my way out the door. But that’s not how I felt, and it’s not where my heart was. Were there bad days? Of course, but they didn’t change how I felt.
Now I didn’t just arrive at a place of peace all at once, God had been teaching me something for a few years now, but I only started to put it together that summer when I lost my job. The peace I felt was rooted in the fact that something more than my job defined me. My success and identity were found in something more than my job, title or influence. I found the truth rooted in three storis.
The Twins – I was a person (and sometimes still am) who liked to be in control. I am not a control freak, but when you have been in ministry/youth ministry, as long as I have been, you learn how to control the chaos, or it will overwhelm you. The challenge is that when things are outside your control, it can drive you mad. My twins were born at 26 weeks, and everything about those early days was 100% outside my control. There was absolutely nothing I could do to help them. All I could do was surrender my control to God. Only He could be their provider. When the girls were finally brought home and relatively free from medical drama, I realized God had solved my control problem by giving me two amazing daughters who were a constant reminder that I was not in control, but God was our provider.
Family First – Over the last few years, God has been realigning my priorities to the new realities of my world. My wife and I were married for thirteen years and had a good rhythm before these two little people entered our world, and everything changed. It wasn’t enough to be home more; I had to be “present.” Not just a passive member of my house but actually present in my world. This meant I had to say no to things, good things, and Godly ministry things because my first calling was not my job (church paid ministry); it was to my family.
I’m a Christian – A few years ago, I asked myself, “am I just a professional Christian?”. I’ve been in paid ministry since I was eighteen and only became a Christian at fourteen. This has been all I have ever known, and in 2018/2019, I was wrestling with work, life and ministry. I couldn’t find a balance or the lines in my life. I ended up asking myself: “If I wasn’t a pastor, would I still be a Christian?”. The immediate answer was YES… but it took several months to work out in my heart. Would just attending church and serving to be enough for me? What’s my calling? What’s my ministry? What defines? The answer was point #2 – Family First.
The peace in my heart came about slowly through this journey. It has come about by asking tough questions about life, love, and faith. I know who I am, what I believe, what my calling is and where my priorities are. The result of this process was coming to an understanding that what I “did” was not who I was.
Being a Pastor was one of the greatest honours of my life. I loved working for the church and getting paid to do what I loved, but my identity was not found in those things. I took a lot of heat for saying no to “good things,” “Godly things.” But my job, my role and my reputation didn’t define me… Jesus did. I love Jesus, love my family and will always place family over all things. It’s my first calling, not because I’m some super human; it’s actually an exercise in trust. Will I trust that Jesus is enough for me, that He is more important than my job, role or reputation.
What you “do” is not “who” you are
As primary leaders, I think we can too easily get caught up in our jobs, roles and reputations. The world also tells us that young bucks are biting at our heels to take our places. So we push harder, work more, and seek more success, and for many of us, the pressure of it all causes us to lose sight of our identity. We begin to believe that what I do “IS” who I am, but that is the great lie of the modern world.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” – 1 John 3:1
This week there is only one question to think about, is what you “do” who you are?
Take some time to explore today’s question. You can do this any way you want but if you want a guide to follow, consider the following steps.
- Find/create some space to be still.
- Pray about the question.
- Write down all your priorities.
- The things that make you tick and get up in the morning.
- Number them based on what you/others think is the most important. Start with #1 as the MOST IMPORTANT and then go until everything has a number.
- Pause and pray about the question.
- Now circle five priorities you think should be the most important in your world.
- Pause and pray about the question.
- Now check off what you think God would say are the five most important things in your world.
Sit on the discovery for a few days. Pray about it when it comes to mind, and consider asking someone you trust to pray with you. After a few days, take some time to ask and answer the question… is what you “do” “who are you”?
Before you skip this post because it sounds very “Youth Ministry.” I want you to hear me out because this leadership principle is extremely critical for anyone in a primary leadership role, regardless of the organization.
This principle does come from my time in Youth Ministry, but it may not be what you think it is at first glance. This principle has a story, and it’s centred around some drama I was dealing with in one of the churches I worked for. Our youth ministry had been picking up steam, and we were starting to grow. Nothing too crazy, but we were growing. That growth meant more teens, and more teens often meant more chaos.
My good friend and mentor Randy Carter once said that if you put a bunch of Jr High students (Grade 6-8) in a room together, it will get chaotic. Not because they are bad kids, but because they are young, impulsive and have limited motor control. They will goof around, fall over each other and probably break something. Then throw puberty and hormones into the mix and watch out. The lack of impulse control can lead to some funny, embarrassing and disastrous situations, and it can all happen in five minutes.
Now to our story…
We were in a new facility, and it seemed like weekly, kids were breaking something or falling into walls. There was so much boy/girl drama it was hard to get anyone to talk about anything else. On top of that, one of the boy’s Small Groups started and ended each night was a fart session… in a locked room.
Needless to say, some of my church Leadership Team felt like things were out of hand. Eventually, I was “talked to,” and the pushback I got was that my students needed to be sitting in rows of chairs hearing a solid message about Jesus and then having deep discussions. They needed to come home talking about the power of the Holy Spirit, not the power of the fart smells. It was a hard time in my ministry because, from my perspective, things were a bit crazy, but Jesus was on the move. Kids were learning and growing in their faith, but people expected my students to be something they weren’t… adults.
I thankfully had one member of our church Leadership Team that understood my situation, and I remember talking things through with him. We both came to the same conclusion; students are students, not adults. We needed to adjust our standards to meet them where they were at. Yes, the bar of expectation could be raised but only within their ability to reach it. Older students could be held to a higher standard, but they were still students, not adults.
At the end of the day, the church Leadership Team and even some of my Small Group leaders were getting stuck in their expectations of what and who students should be. They processed the world through “their lens,” but they are adults who see the world through the lens and experience as an adult. No Jr High boys Small Group will function as an adult discussion-based bible study. It’s not realistic, so we shifted our viewpoint instead of fighting against that expectation.
We started to hold to the value that “students are students, not adults,” and then we began to ask students why they felt like the expectations should be, and over time we found a balance. There was still chaos, hormone and farts, but we redrew the line of success to something our students could achieve. We continued to grow because of it, and over time, we’re able to paint a better picture of how God was moving in our group to those in leadership.
So what does any of this have to do with you?
The answer is simple; you need to meet the people you lead where they are at. I think it’s way too easy for us in primary leadership roles to believe that everyone should come to us. The adults in my ministry projected what they felt or wanted onto students who couldn’t understand or grasp what they were being asked to do. I think we do the same thing in adult leadership, but we think it’s okay because we are all adults.
However, we are not all wired the same. We might not be ruled by chaos, hormone and farts anymore, but we are defined by our unique experience, skills and baggage. Not every adult is the same… so it’s our responsibility as primary leaders to redefine success based on where our people are versus where I am as the primary leader. This is counter-cultural in so many ways but integral for growth and development. If you want your team to succeed and thrive, you need to help them win, and the only way to do that is to meet them where they are at. The best part is that as they succeed, so do you. Not because you’re a fantastic leader, but because you are all in this together. That’s your role as their primary leader; your job is to help them succeed. But that doesn’t happen when we project our personal lens of success on our team.
The saying goes, “students are students, not adults” in youth ministry. But for us, I think the phrase should be, “adults are adults, but not every adult is the same.”
Take some time to consider the following questions.
- Who defines the success of your team right now?
- How would you define success right now for your organization or role?
- How would your team define success right now for your organization or role?
- Do you think your team can meet your definition of success? why or why not?
I have two parts to this activity, but I want to give you one final piece of advice. Everything in this chapter is going to take time. You’re not going to figure it all out right away, and redefining the win is not always an easy task. The suggestions below help you start the process, but this is not a one-and-done exercise. You will need to come back at this time and time again for it to become part of your culture.
- PART #1 Understanding – Get your team together and get to know each other more. Google some “get to know you” mixer games and learn about each other’s experience, skills and even baggage. The goal is relationship building and getting to know where your team is at on a personal level. You want to discover their unique experience, skills and baggage. There is no wrong way to do this, but it takes intentionality.
- PART #2 Defining – Plan a time as a team to go over how everyone measures success. You can consider doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) style review or walk through roles, responsibilities and expectations. Keep the conversation open and listen to what your team is saying. Remember, “adults are adults, but not every adult is the same.” Look for the places you agree and note where things are different. Then seek to understand those differences more and find the middle ground. Remember, you succeed when your team succeeds, but they need to know what that means for them.