As a young girl I had a feeling I’d marry a youth pastor. Maybe it had to do with growing up attending church and being involved in ministry at an early age, or maybe it was God whispering a glimpse of my future — I try not to stress about it.
What I do know is that after five years of being a youth pastor’s wife I was in complete shock when we decided to leave our home church this past October. It was an extremely difficult decision based on several key factors, from leadership differences to decreasing church finances that threatened my husband’s full-time position.
Being married to the position wasn’t a conscious thought — it was our daily reality. Church was our primary source of employment, ministry and community. We met and married at that church.
Matt was the hot new youth guy, and I was the single gal in the office. He said I had “sparkly eyes” and I thought he was amazing (he is, after all) and a year later we married. On our new journey there were many exciting turns, like growth in the youth group and the transition from part-time to full-time ministry for Matt. So, when — five years after he went on staff — we found ourselves saying goodbye, I was more than a little surprised.
We naturally assumed Matt would resume church-based ministry right away, and he was recommended for, and was offered, a full-time youth position at a sister church nearby. Life was back on track, until we turned it down.
After sleepless nights, tear-filled conversations and lots of prayer we made the decision to turn down the only sure option we had at the time — a full-time job offer in ministry with benefits.
With no job, no church, no health insurance — only God’s peace assuring that we were headed in the right direction — surprise turned to shock a few weeks later when our newfound joblessness allowed us the time and space to begin grieving the loss we had just endured.
In the midst of this grief and transition a new friend asked, in one of those God-inspired moments, what we thought we wanted to do next. Our immediate response was church ministry (duh). Then they asked, “Why?”
We were dumbfounded at the question and scrambled for an answer. “Why not?” we thought. In our minds, traditional church-based organizations were where ministry happened. But then God began challenging us to explore a new definition for the word church. We began asking: Does the current evangelical expression of church match what we read about in the book of Acts? If not, what are some possible reasons, and what can we do about it? Our desire is not to disregard or disrespect the current organizational structure the body of Christ has developed — however, we are open to exploring new means and expressions of biblical ministry.
In God’s kindness he is also refining our understanding of doing and being. As we learned in ministry, sadly the two often get turned around amidst the busyness and business of it all.
God won’t often use us to help impact the lives of others until our own are fully submitted to him. It’s crucial that we don’t plateau in our openness to the Holy Spirit’s powerful spiritual formation in us. We will never “arrive,” we will never grow “enough” this side of heaven; I believe a dangerous many of us get lulled to sleep in the activity of ministry. We need to stay alert, as Scripture tells us; we still have a very real enemy out there singing the lullaby of complacency, success and significance.
With all of this newfound time in our lives, we’re experiencing a separation between our working definitions of ministry and church (the organization). It’s not that they are no longer related; however, we are seeing that ministry can powerfully take place outside of the Sunday morning organization.
Still very much in transition and in process for what’s next in our own journey, we continue feeling God inquire us, “Why?” at each crossroad. It can feel a little disconcerting at times, but it is good. He’s teaching us to remain open to his leading, even when the path doesn’t fit our traditional understanding of living a life in Christ. God may just be trying to do something new that we would have never dreamed of.
May we follow Peter’s example of trial and error, stepping out of the boat wherever, whenever and to whatever it is Christ is calling us, trusting in his abundant love when we stumble.