Sunday, July 18, 2010

Endings and New Beginnings

Leaving things you love is remarkably difficult. Knowing that the decision is the right one doesn't make it any easier, though this is the situation I find myself in. Four years ago I was given an opportunity to begin a youth group at a new church, a church that I knew very little about except that they were excited to just have someone be the youth pastor of their kids. So we started out with a handful of kids, quite a bit of prayer, and an adventurous spirit. What has transpired since June of 2006 has been a miraculous journey filled with friendships, salvation, reconciliation, joy, and some heartache mixed in as well to be sure. But all along the way it has been worth it every moment.
I was 22 when I took the job at Providence Bible Church, feeling quite youthful as a recent college graduate. I was also very hopeful that I'd be able to see some quick growth in the youth group... you know, somewhere in the 40-50 student range. Funny thing was, that wasn't what God had planned and it honestly wasn't at all what I needed. Those first few months were filled with quite a bit of anxiety, as I was unfortunately equally as interested in being cool in the kids' eyes as I was with honoring the Lord with what kind of ministry was happening. But slowly, given some time and patience on the part of the Lord, I grew. And with me, my wife, the adult volunteers, and the students. That first year we saw quite a few new faces, and by God's grace many of them stuck and became foundational moving forward. The Regans, Shelnutts, Jackie, Stordahls, and more were added beyond the original students at the church, all of whom God used in my life to encourage and strengthen me. Losing that first batch of seniors was far more difficult than I thought it would be. After just one year, I was shocked at how attached I'd become to these kids - I'll never forget just flat out breaking down as I was trying to talk at their graduation party.
The youth group continued to gain momentum over the next couple of years, as we had just one lone senior in the group in '07-08. That was a phenomenal time in the ministry - kids maturing, inviting friends to events, thinking of ways to serve, establishing a student ministry leader team, and so on. It was a pleasure meeting with kids one on one, or in groups, or however I could - going to football games, school plays, and the like. The Lord was so faithful to provide adult leaders who loved the students as well - whenever one good adult leader would step down for whatever reason, we'd see another one or two take their place soon thereafter.
As I look back on this past year, I really see the fruit of the past 4 years mixed in with the seeds planted for the next 4. Students who were 10 when I arrived are now entering high school; 7th and 8th grade guys from that original junior high group are now juniors and seniors. I'm blown away at the unity of this group and the way it has come to mean so much to them, and so much to Noelle and I. Even though we believed God was preparing us well in advance (He knows our dependency on some forewarning with these things!) for the next phase of our lives, we loved the students deeply and wanted to see them continue to grow. We've seen new families plugging in just like what was happening in '06, and now they have a great new leader in Steve to have their kids pastored by. I'm eternally grateful for the work God has done, the way we've been loved, and the send off that is happening even now.
No, it will not be easy to leave, even though we know the timing is right. But God is moving at PBC and is not going to stop doing so once we're gone. Truth be told, I believe the influx of new couples, families, and leadership is only going to spark more mission in the church and more unity in the body. It will be beautiful to hear about how things are going, even if from 600 miles north. We will not leave without tears and aching hearts. But we will leave hopeful for our lives that God is leading and the life of this great family at PBC.

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