How to discover God’s will in the dark (our return to student ministry)

chania_lighthouseI was in Orlando this spring for work and had an opportunity to spend some time with Dave DeVries (Missional Challenge).  Dave and I have been friends for years and he is one of the coaches I have turned to for help from time to time.  Last year he not only coached us through the writing ofMarriage On Mission, but he also published the book (talented guy and probably the best pure coach I have ever worked with).

As we sat down for breakfast one morning Dave could tell that I was wrestling with something.  A few questions later (good coaches know how to draw you out with the right questions) I was telling him that I felt like I was losing energy for my current ministry role and felt unsure about my next move.  Within minutes he was writing the following on a scrap of paper:

  • Competencies?
  • Organizational Need?
  • Passions?

Dave walked me through a very simple process that helped me discover the sweet spot where my competencies (things I am really good at), an organizational need (a current unmet need in an organization), and my passions (what I care most about) converge.

Here is what I wrote in my journal on April 29, 2016:

  1. Leading leaders
  2. Writing
  3. Coaching
  4. Building and leading missional teams
Organizational Needs
  1. Pastors and leaders who want to model, make, and multiply disciples but don’t know how to or feel stuck.
  2. Churches who fail to engage high school students and young adults in a robust disciple making process that develops missionally focused leaders.
  3. Ministry minded couples who are struggling with intimacy and partnership in mission.
  1. Burned out, disillusioned leaders who are desperate for renewal, a restart, and sustained gospel fruitfulness.
  2. Ministry couples struggling with relational intimacy and kingdom partnership AND have a sense of urgency to make a change.
  3. Students and young adults who are disconnected with God, Christian community, and a compelling missional purpose.

What surprised me most as I worked through this exercise and solicited feedback from people who knew me well was the amount of passion I had for young adults.  I mean, honestly, I hung up my youth pastor’s skinny jeans over 18 years ago – there’s no way I am ever doing that again.  Right?

I have moved onto bigger and better things!  Youth ministry is a stepping stone to “real” ministry.  I want to sit at the adult table – not babysit unruly teenagers.  Right?

However, as I began understanding the connection between the pain I experienced as a middle school student who didn’t know Christ and the empathy I still felt for young adults (many feeling disconnected from God and a meaningful purpose for their lives) it started to make sense.

My passion to help young adults connect with Christ, a spiritual family, and their missional destiny is a life long calling – not a stepping stone.  It’s tattooed onto my soul.  There is a direct correlation with pain and passion.  It’s the reason why I always gravitate back to student ministry – no matter what my paying job might be at the time.

So, the passion was there and the competency to equip leaders who eventually equip other leaders was also there (thanks in large part to 15 years of coaching church planters and pastors), but what about the organizational need?  As I was praying about how I might redemptively connect again to young adults two things stood out to me:

  1. I was already volunteering in our student ministry and God was giving tons of grace to disciple a group of young men.  I could just keep doing what I was already doing.
  2. I always had a dream of living in a college town and mentoring students in the words, works, and ways of Jesus.  Maybe God was prompting us to make a move?

As Sandi and I were praying about all of this the youth pastor called me into his office to tell me that his family was moving out of state in less than two months and that he wanted Sandi and me to assume leadership over the student ministry.  I think we call that an organizational need…

Competency, organizational need, and passion aligned and we confidently stepped forward into a new season of student ministry through our local church.  I accepted a half-time role as the interim director of student ministries and Sandi has enthusiastically partnered with me.  (We will continue serving couples through Marriage on Mission Ministry and I will still do some leadership coaching as well.)  We don’t know how long God will ask us to serve in this role, but we are at peace that this is his will for us.

A great metaphor for competency, organizational need, and passion is the scene of a ship approaching a harbor at night.  What does the crew look for when they are still miles out?  The lighthouse.  I equate the lighthouse with passion – it is my long range guiding light, something that I come back to time and time again.  However, it’s not enough to see a lighthouse and set your course.  Depending upon water depth and other factors (like huge rocks to one side of the bay) the captain has to set a course that guides him along the channel and keeps the ship away from danger.  What does the crew look for to make certain they are safely approaching the lighthouse on the correct heading?  Navigational buoys.  These buoys (competency and organizational need) line up with the lighthouse to help bring ships all the way to port – in one piece.

Scripture says that everything will be established by two or three witnesses.  How did I know God wanted me to serve in youth ministry again?  He gave me three witnesses.  Actually he gave me another confirmation that was absolutely essential and set the stage for everything that followed; Sandi was in agreement with the decision to pursue student ministry and we had complete unity throughout the entire process.  More important than fulfilling a passion or exercising a competency – pursuing a marriage on mission with Sandi has been the biggest win.

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