Thursday, January 8, 2009

Please Do Not Call Me to Children's Ministry


This will probably be the longest, most rambling, most raw entry I’ve ever written on here. I am exhausted, I’ve got a million things running through my mind, I’m all at once bursting at the seams and at complete peace…So please bear with me, read if you want, or don’t…I just have to get this out :) I often compare writing my fictional stuff to throwing up, in the sense that I’ve just got to get the stuff in mind out as quickly as possible, and I’ll worry about cleaning it up later…Well, for once, I feel like I’ve got to get what’s on my heart out and frankly I don’t care if I clean it up or not…

Ever since answering the call to the ministry and being accepted by Asbury Theological Seminary, I’ve been pretty consistent, “God, use me any way You want, I am Yours…However, if it’s all the same to You, PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.” (This after telling God on my deathbed, “If I live, my life is yours, no strings attached.“ Funny how those strings tend to find their way back, but I digress) With that said, I have some confessions to make and I just might really step in it with some people that I respect greatly, so please forgive me :)

Before my confessional, let me establish some things first. I absolutely, positively love kids. There’s no two ways about it. I coached youth football for seventeen years, I taught creative writing to fourth graders, I took great pride when my sisters had kids, on being not only the absolute coolest uncle ever, but also being the best, and of course there is my own son, who for the simple fact that he still draws breath, only goes to prove just how much I do in fact love kids.

In addition to that, I was imminently blessed over the past several months when the Director of Childhood Ministries at my church allowed me to become involved in God’s Backyard (http://www.godsbackyard.com/).
I started out as a small group leader and eventually I was given the opportunity to lead on occasion (a HUGE honor). For some of you, you might remember that I wrote about an experience in GBY some time ago (http://www.cantankerouschristian.com/2008/08/from-mouth-of-babes.html)

I’ve continued to be involved periodically since then and I can honestly say, every time I have been in there has been an absolute blessing for the same reasons that I detailed in that piece. Frankly speaking, and I may very well get myself in trouble for this, I have never left GBY feeling as if I hadn’t been in church. I can’t always say that about “big people’s” church and very, very rarely to the magnitude of GBY. These kids in the midst of having fun and enjoying themselves are getting the Gospel, they are getting the Word, and they are thriving on it…

I love it and I look forward to each opportunity to serve in there. However, as I summed it up this morning to a friend, “I looked at it more from the “uncle” perspective. I love being around them and hanging out with them, but at the end of the day, I could simply send them back.” I think that’s a pretty accurate analogy. It’s great fun to go in and teach them, to have fun with them, and to get them all riled up, because at the end of the day, I got to give them back.
And what a great thing it is. Once a month, maybe every six weeks, I get to go in, have a blast, have my heart touched, and spirit renewed. I always come out of there, so refreshed, so motivated, so ready to get back after the “less pleasant” things of church. But it never ends there…I get hugs! It’s pretty doggone cool to walk into church and hear an excited voice exclaim, “Mr. Corey!”, just before you find little arms wrapped around your waist. Or to be asked if I’ve eaten any more reindeer poop (long story). Or to be able to make funny faces in “big” church and have them returned. Or to be asked, “Honey, why are there sparkly kitten stickers all over the inside of the washing machine?” “Because they were stuck to my sweater of course.”

Yeah, being an uncle was and is pretty cool. But here is my confession…I always thought it was somehow below me, not really worthy of my life or career. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you either know me or you’ve read my other writings. You know I can at times be antagonistic when it comes to the foolishness of Christianity today, you know my passions, you know some of my heart. You know I tend to thrive on the battles. I like spiritual fist-fights. I enjoy riling people up if it gets them thinking about their relationship with Christ and examining their faith. I’ve told anyone and everyone since I answered the call, “If there is one thing I know for certain, God hasn’t called me to an easy ministry, or to some pristine sanctuary…After what was forged in disease, suffering, and near death, God knows what He has in me.”

I’m surprised at my reaction as I type that…God knows what He has in me. I hadn’t considered that part until just now and I’ve got to say, it hit pretty hard, but more on that later.

I guess that the Marine, boxer, and football player has been kind of manifesting…I just tended to see children’s/youth ministry as safe, as something that really wasn’t a battleground. I know how foolish that sounds now, believe me I do…

I go back to what I shared earlier, those repeated words to God, “God, use me any way You want, I am Yours…However, if it’s all the same to You, PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.” I can remember the very first time I thought that. Why? Because I remember the thought that immediately followed, “You know that’s exactly where you’re going to end up.” And it scared the hell out of me…It’s often been my experience with God, that when a fear like that rises up, it is God’s way of telling me, “Tough. We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way, but I will eventually get My way.” I was entirely cognizant of the fact that when these “God fears” strike me, it usually ends up being something I absolutely love and something that absorbs me.

It happened with the call to the ministry and any number of other things in my life. That is one truth I learned long ago, God really does know best and in the end, even the things that seem most absurd to me, end up being the greatestest blessings. But I still insist on wrestling with it, trying to wish it away, and most certainly trying to pray it away. “C’mon God, I’ve misinterpreted right? This really isn’t what you want, right? You’re testing me right? My obedience? Ask me to run through that wall over there. I’ll show you obedience, but just not that. Besides look at me. Long hair. Tattoos (albeit hidden, unless I wear a t-shirt). Who‘s gonna send their kids to me?”…“God, use me any way You want, I am Yours…However, if it’s all the same to You, PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.”

**********

I went to Nashville this week for the Children’s Pastors’ Conference, physically and emotionally exhausted. There’s a lot going on in my other responsibilities at church that have left me spent, spiritually battered, and heartbroken in some ways. I don’t say this for pity, but to frame the mindset I went to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference with. However, I do want to stress, I was excited to be going and thankful for the opportunity to do so. Besides, it would prove to be a welcome respite from everything else and I was going with people that I genuinely like and respect.

The problem was, once I got there, I found myself asking, “Why am I here?” I asked that question of myself after it was essentially asked of me…

“So, you’re a children’s pastor?”

“Uh, no.”

“Involved with children’s ministry?”

“Sort of.”

“Thinking about it?”

“Well, I guess.” PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.

I couldn’t help but to wonder, “What on earth am I doing here?” And it really bugged me. I can remember our Director asking me if I wanted to go, but I couldn’t remember actually ever being given a reason why. There was no, “We want you to go because we’d really like you to consider doing this” or “Hey, you look like you need a break…Come to Opryland.” Nothing, aside from, “Check this out. If you want to go, the church will send you.”

As I went to bed Monday night, I was feeling really guilty about being there. “Uncles” don’t get sent to take “parenting” classes. I felt in a sense that I was kind of ripping off my church and the Children’s ministry. I really did a lot of praying that night. Mostly about that, but also because I was exorcized and re-saved that night (another long, but funny story)

I went to the sessions the next day and really enjoyed them. Honestly speaking, I got a lot out of them, but I still felt like a fish out of water, especially as I secretly prayed under my breath whenever anyone struck up a conversation with me, “Please don’t ask me what I do at my church.”

I made it to dinner that night, still not sure how to feel about things. Then something happened. They did this thing where people were chosen at random to be interviewed about their CPC experience or what they hoped it get out of it. A woman was asked the latter, and her response was simply, “I hope to learn more effective ways of raising tomorrow’s leaders.” At that moment, a fire lit in me that was quite unexpected.

“Why tomorrow!? What good is that!? Why not today!? Why can’t children lead today!? I don’t care about tomorrow! We need help today!”

My mind raced back to my time in GBY, the faith, the excitement of these children. The power in that, the affect it always has on me. Scripture started racing through my mind…and a little child will lead them… The kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these…Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter in the kingdom of heaven.
 
Still my mind clung, “PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.”

My devotional the following morning focused on James 1:5 and asking for God’s wisdom. It talked about the difference between guidance, discernment, and asking for that wisdom. I prayed hard for God’s wisdom that morning. At lunch, the keynote speaker began with that same scripture. My first session after lunch, unbeknownst to me was with that same speaker, guess what scripture he continued to pound?

Possibilities began to run through my mind and that fire that had alit the night before was blazing. Children strongly rooted in the faith become adults strongly rooted in the faith. Children strongly rooted in the faith convict adults who aren’t. To me, both as an onlooker and as a parent, I can attest, there is no more powerful testament, than the faith of a child.

I began to really see children’s ministry in a different light. I began to really see the battleground that it truly is. I truly began to see the warriors that those in children’s ministry are…For the first time I realized just how incredible they are. We know the importance Christ placed upon children, we know His heart for them. Are we so foolish as to believe that Satan does not understand that as well? Talk about a battleground. Yet, these people are so often smiling, joyous, and even bubbly? They go to war for our children week in, week out, day by day, with their prayers, their hearts, and their energy. They know what they are up against…and still they smile. In the Marines, we used to say, “When death smiles at you, smile back.” These people certainly exemplify that in ways that I sure as heck don’t. I felt so tiny, unworthy, and ashamed.

God’s wisdom…funny thing. Always perfect, sometimes painful, but always welcomed. Which also reminds me, do indeed, be careful what you pray for, God is faithful. God did a lot of speaking and wisdom imparting throughout the rest of the conference, none louder than an unexpected conversation I had with the Director last night. She had no clue the sheer number of prayers answered and the peace gained in her words. She has no clue the way my spirit soared, nor how quickly I rushed off to my room, and to my knees, in excitement and thanksgiving.

“If there is one thing I know for certain, God hasn’t called me to an easy ministry, or to some pristine sanctuary."

Those words have played heavily in my mind and heart over the last twenty-four hours or so. I don’t think, if this is truly where God is leading me, have those words ever been so true or convicting of me.

“God knows what He has in me.” Typing these words earlier, as I said, hammered me unexpectedly…My mind immediately filled with thoughts and images…

I go nuts over Christmas every year because it makes me feel like a kid again. If left to my own devices, I’ll flip cartoons on the tv and not touch the remote the rest of the day. I like playing videogames. I like goofing off. I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and thought it was the greatest Christmas present ever….and I’m holding out for an adult sized big-wheel next year. I walk by the toy aisle and see cool new toys and wish that my son was little again, not so much for him, but so I would have an excuse to play with them myself. I like dressing up like an elf and telling the kids that I mistook reindeer poop for raisins. I like putting my hair in pigtails as a means of getting every child to bring their Bible to GBY.

I love talking about Jesus to those who believe like I do, who need no convincing. I love the thought of trying to reach those kids who don’t have real hope, who don’t know Christ. I love being around those who challenge me to take my passion and excitement for God to the next level. I love being around those who challenge me to be a better Christian. I love being around those who need no convincing beyond, “God said so, that’s why.” I love hugs. I love my wife finding sparkly stickers stuck in the washing machine. I love being excited about worship. I love the idea of being in the presence of those who will truly be able to make a difference for the Kingdom. I loved the tears of joy in my wife’s eyes when I told her how God moved in me this week. I love the peace and contentment my heart and soul rest in this evening.

Does God truly know what He has in me?

Have I found the answers to the many questions, fears, and hesitations I’ve been dealing with over the past few months? Have I been granted that wisdom?

I know what I think, what I feel, what I believe. I also know that I’m going to take a little time to allow the past few hours, the past few days, and the past few months to really sink in. I’m going to enjoy this peace and contentment that have been a little too hard to come by as of late.

Most of all, I know that those words, that I repeat so often, that prayer I often utter has forever changed. The words have become fewer and my submission has become more complete…

“God, use me any way You want, I am Yours.”
 
 

6 comments:

Mike Voigts said...

Wow, Corey. It looks like when given the choice between the blue and the red pill, you've chosen the red pill.

Welcome!

The Queen said...

As promised:

Well written. . .Honestly, "grown ups" don't get you. You're strange and excited and emphatic. And you throw up words. You're a wonderful, honest, authentic kid. And kids LOVE you! Could it be anything but God tugging you this way?

I know you've been struggling. But if God is leading you to JOY... don't spit in his face and absolutely don't be afraid to tell about it! There is no shame in following His lead and no one in his or her right mind would argue that there is!

Marty said...

You're so awesome! I look forward to hearing all about the conference when I see you in person. Exorcised and re-saved?

I'm so glad that God has revealed to you where He wants you and that you seem to have given up kicking and screaming your way into children's ministry. Truly allowing God to take the lead can be hard for us humans, believe me I know! I struggle with that very thing. I'm always complaining about not seeing the JOY of the Lord in Christians. You put it very well: (maybe not in these words) following God's plan instead of our own leads to the kind of JOY that is so evident in children!
The other great thing about you being in Children's Ministry is you get to stay a kid forever!! Well done, Peter Pan!

Anonymous said...

I'm not altogether sure that God calls people to children's ministry, any more than I am convinced that He gives us spiritual gifts in an enduring, generic fashion. God calls us to ministry. Sometimes that means a lifetime in a particular segment of the enterprise. Sometimes that means we will serve in various roles at various times.

Gordon

Anonymous said...

well I don't know you- Although I think I would like to - honest, thinking, and you vomit words- me too write it down get it out of the system WOW A phrase I hear often in our church is the children are our future - like you I think what about today they can know God today they can obey God today Our children are now!
What I was looking for and why I happened onto your blog Why do people choose Children's ministry ? - I think I have my answer- thanks from Australia

The Cantankerous Christian said...

Anonymous,

I am so sorry for being slow in getting back to you, but thank you so much for your words and for visiting :) I am thankful that you were led here!

Corey