back in 1985, i was quite the youth minister. at least in my own eyes.
i was thirty years old…i had been happily married for ten years and was the father of two little socal beach boys. i already had 12 years of youth ministry experience under my belt…the previous five years at a large church with a large youth group in the heart of downtown surf city, usa (huntington beach).
i had a master’s degree in preaching and was well on my way to a second one in marriage and family counseling. i had taught youth ministry in our local bible college for eight years. i taught regularly at youth ministry conferences and camps and training workshops. i had travelled internationally leading kids on short-term mission trips.
i played the guitar and had a decent jump shot from the baseline. i even had a pretty sweet mullet before it was cool (and then totally un-cool). i was livin’ the dream. at least in my own head.
looking back on it, i don’t think i was full of myself, tho i’m sure others may have thought that about me. i had good friends who were quick to knock me of my self-made pedestal. my awareness of the presence of god in my life and world was real and my commitment to kingdom living was pretty authentic.
but i was far from perfect and even farther from the person god had designed me to be.
in early 1986, everything started to change at the church i served. in the midst of enormous and almost unheard of financial debt, our beloved senior minister and the great patriarch of our church family (and my boss) died unexpectedly. we were a church family in turmoil.
and i apparently became very marketable, available, and a hot commodity in the youth ministry world. go figure.
i started getting regular phone calls from churches who thought i could be the next great thing in youth ministry for their church. i had never received job offers like this before. to be honest, it was flattering. the words of praise the people (usually senior pastors) used filled my head. and started to puff my ego. (like i said, i was far from what i needed to be).
a common theme among my new suitors was this: “you need to expand your influence. come to our bigger church and you’ll have a bigger budget and more kids and more resources. you’ll be able to speak on a larger platform to a much larger audience. you’ll have the time to speak and write. you’ll be able to multiply your life and ministry and leave a legacy that will never be able to happen if you stay where you are at.”
pretty convincing, huh? especially to an aspiring young world-changer with a tendency to have visions of grandeur and a regular battle with an over-blown sense of importance. talk about tempting.
have i ever mentioned that i was married to a young, good-looking version of mother teresa?
after one particularly gratifying and ego-boosting phone interview, wanda and i began to talk. she listened to me embellish the opportunities and possibilities associated with this new potential to move up the ministry corporate ladder. and then she spoke some simple words that have never left me and shaped our whole approach to life and ministry to this day:
“why do you feel a need to expand your influence? why don’t we just stay here and be faithful to what god led us to do? why don’t we just keep doing what we’re doing and leave the expanding and multiplying and influencing to god?”
after that moment, saying “no” was easy. the appeal for big and influential no longer held any interest to me. even though we ultimately left that church after five more years, it was not because we were drawn to something with eye or ego appeal. we had simply come to the end of our usefulness.
and it was ok.
man…am i grateful for my wife.