When Philip and I got married in 1996, we were part of a small church in Pennsylvania. We got married, went on our honeymoon, returned, and took over the youth group. A better way to put this would be, "the youth group took us over." We worked...hard. Some things we did very well and other things we didn't. It was the first time we were doing ministry together and it was a huge learning experience for both of us.
Along with overseeing the youth group, Philip and I were asked to be a "Couple in Training." Our job responsibilities were undefined. For the last 20 years, we have joked that we are still unsure what we were being trained for or if that training ever ended.
You name it, we did it. We taught Sunday School, set up and served communion, gave announcements, prayed for people, cleaned the bathrooms, washed floors, organized events, planned dinners, visited the sick, ministered in the prison, and helped set up and tear down the sanctuary whenever we were asked.
I am not going to lie to you and tell you we enjoyed everything about this season. We were free labor. There were times I resented it, times my mouth got me in trouble, and times Philip and I went round and round about something that happened at church.
Through it all...ministry truly got deep in my soul and I fell in love with working with people. Our closest friends were the leaders of the church and the other couple who got snookered into "training" with us. It was hard, but it was life changing.
During this season of training, we were mentored and sharpened into the leaders we are today. As we worked, sometimes for Jesus and sometimes for people, God was chiseling away at my roughness. As a Northern girl, I had plenty of roughness to rub away.
We did have moments where we all let our hair down, had dinner, and a lot of fun, but the majority of our relationships were established as we served together, side by side, on the same team, and towards the same goal.
I never wanted to cook growing up...ever! In fact, when Philip and I got married, we made an agreement that I would never be expected to cook dinner. An elder in our church tried to convince Philip he needed to marry a cooking woman, but Philip was blinded by love. I refused to spend my life in the kitchen. Now, this has changed from a luxury to a necessity in our home because someone has to feed the kids...but I long for the day when it is just Philip and I and someone else can worry about making dinner.
My mom lived next door and I would periodically ask her how to cook one of our childhood dinners. She would tell me how to cook it and then say, "I will just come over and help you." Mom would come over and cook while I drank coffee and talked. We got dinner so I was happy with the arrangement, but I never learned how to cook.
When Philip and I moved away, I still didn't know how to cook my favorite childhood dishes. I called my mom from another state and she explained the recipe over the phone. I had some disasters at first, but eventually, I figured it out. I never learned how to cook until I practiced what my mom was teaching me.
Ministry is the same way. You can take courses, get a degree, and have a weekly meeting with your pastor, but until you get in there and start working...you will never learn. With time, you will develop a style and a ministry preference. You will find out what kind of leaders you work best with and how to communicate effectively with the team around you. Basically, working in ministry will make you a better person because you will be challenged in every area of your life.
For 10 years, Philip and I worked hard. Eventually, we moved from the youth group to the children's ministry and we fell in love. We fell in love with children and babies and all the corny songs with hand motions that children love to sing. We dressed up like clowns and bunnies and made up fun events for the kids. We played with Play-Doh, sawdust, and clay. We had so much fun working and at the same time, we were still "Couples in Training." Have I already said free labor?
The young leaders who are doing amazing things in their communities and with their churches today are working hard. They are working alongside other leaders who are speaking words of encouragement and wisdom into their lives. They are getting there early and leaving late. They are giving up time on weekends. Many are working a full-time job and are also working part-time at the church.
Just like the young leaders before them.
And the young leaders before them.
In every church and leadership position I have held, I have been mentored. Even 20 years later, I am still learning new things. We have a group of great leaders...and we are holding on. I continue to learn new ways to deal with people, love people, organize meetings, engage in a church family, and interact with other leaders. Philip and I pursue relationships with people who have a passion for God and his ministry...both inside and outside the church.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah called Elisha to follow him. From that day to the day Elijah was taken from this earth, Elisha walked with Elijah. The Message Bible says in 1 Kings 19 that Elisha became Elijah's right-hand man. The NIV Bible describes him as Elijah's servant. We don't hear of any miracles or that he was gifted as a prophet until after Elijah is taken.
One can only assume what Elisha learned from working with Elijah during the time they were together. How to live by faith? How to speak the word of the Lord boldly? How to minister to those around him?
Elisha learned how to do ministry, side by side, on the same team, and towards the same goal with his mentor, Elijah.
When I was on staff at our last church, I had a group of 8 women who worked with me. My goal for that ministry was for it to be centered around Jesus, not me. The only way that could happen was with a team of several women, each having a lead role.
I loved working with these women and they became my closest friends. We worked...hard. We were the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave. After an event, we would be in the kitchen cleaning, doing dishes, laughing and telling stories. Occasionally, we would be eating leftover cake that we didn't get to eat during the event because we were working.
When I left my position to come home with my youngest, ministry went on without me. There wasn't any drama or division, and the team is still there working. We are still the closest of friends. I could never have accomplished what we did there without them. I needed them, just as much as they needed me. Together...we worked side by side, on the same team, and towards the same goal.
So if you are a leader and you feel called to a ministry...I would challenge you to find a mentor and get to work. Arrive early and leave late. Help another leader accomplish their God-given dream. Become an asset and help carry the load. Do the things no one wants to do and watch God move in amazing ways. He will open doors for you that you never imagined.
Side by side, on the same team, and towards the same goal is the perfect starting point for God to sharpen you, mold you, and train you into the leader He desires. One day you will have the opportunity to mentor another and have the privilege of watching God work in their life while they help you with your God-given dream.
I am a girl passionately in love with Jesus, my husband, and my children. I am forever learning how to live a life completely undone for my God. This blog is about my journey and a few funny stories in between.