Podcast Episode 016, 40 min
Pastoral Longevity and Ministry Partnership with Gary Garcia (Ep 16)
Karl Vaters and Gary Garcia have a unique relationship. They’ve worked together at the same church for 29 years. For the first 25 years Karl was Gary’s lead pastor. For the last 4 years Gary has been Karl’s lead pastor. Yes, at the same church.

Gary Garcia: I would tell pastors, man, stop chasing ministry and enjoy it. You know, that's one of the reasons I've lasted. I've enjoyed where I'm at. I've had so much fun doing ministry. Are there problems? Yes, we're, we're working with people. There's always going to be problems, but my enjoyment of ministry, it's so much bigger than the times that I've been frustrated, disappointed, or any of those things.

Karl Vaters: Hi I'm Karl and I'm a small church pastor. And welcome to this episode of, Can This Work in a Small Church? My podcast guest today is GG and the subject is pastoral longevity and ministry partnership. Gary and I have a unique relationship. We worked together at the same church for 29 years.

For the first 25 years, I was his lead pastor. For the last four years, he's been my lead pastor. Yes, we traded jobs at the same church, but there's so much ground to cover with him. So we're going to take two episodes to do it. In the next episode, we'll talk about that pastoral transition.

But first, in this episode, we talk about how to stay in ministry long-term, how to stay fresh while in the same church, how to work well together, and advice for those wanting to stay strong in ministry for the long haul. Don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question. Can this work in a small church?

Alright, so this month, as we are recording this interview, you celebrate 30 years on staff at our church. Not just on staff, but as the youth pastor. And not just as the youth pastor but the two of us have been working together for now almost 29 years together. And not only that, but after 25 years serving as my youth pastor now for the last, almost four years, I have served as your teaching pastor.

I used to be your boss and now you're my boss. So we're going to have to take two podcasts just to tackle all of the stuff going on there because it's so unusual, so different. And quite frankly something that both of us, I think get asked a lot. We must get asked this a lot because when I mentioned it to you about doing it, Amy, your wife looked at me. and went, "Oh, yeah. Like, I think you can figure out how to do a podcast on that." Or something like that because you've been asked this question a lot. Right? How, how have you lasted so long in the same place, particularly in youth ministry, right? So give us, I, obviously, I know the story, but give the listeners some of your story starting with, when did you feel called to pastoral ministry?

GG: So, I was probably, I'd already had the job when I got the calling. Which is always such a weird thing, but I mean, I got saved on a missions trip, so there you go. I seem to do everything a little bit backward, but I had been at this church my whole life and really found Christ in my later teenage years.

Started serving in the youth ministry. They had asked me to oversee junior high and come on staff as the junior high pastor. So I did that and not long after that, there was a church split. And so everybody left for the staff. For the most part, it was just the old lead pastor and myself and the church secretary.

They asked if I would take the youth ministry until they found somebody else to do it. And so I was just kind of leading it, assuming that at one point I would not be leading it anymore. It was through that time that I really felt God's calling. It was I'd taken the students to camp, a winter camp, and actually was supposed to come back down the hill to do some stuff for the career I was looking at.

In the middle of that camp, I felt just, God, clearly saying, "This is what I have for you, and this is what you're called to do." And so, yeah, and I, I knew it then and never looked back, never dreaming that I would still be in the same place for my whole youth ministry career. But yeah, so that was kind of in a small story. That's really it. I had the job, got the calling, and then just continued on.

KV: Yeah. Now, before that, of course, I've actually seen video of your mother walking through the front door of our church, pregnant with you. So you've been around this church a while.

GG: Yeah. Yeah. Same church, my whole life. I mean, that's kind of a rare thing, but it just, I, I always assumed at some point I would leave. I never dreamed I'd be the lead pastor, let alone the youth pastor growing up. And it's one of those things where I'm open to whatever God has for me. It's definitely not one of those, I'm afraid to leave the nest situations. But I've also felt like I don't want to go just to go. I don't want to go just because I feel like that's what we're supposed to do.

I heard Rick Warren say one time that all he ever wanted was to pastor one church his whole life. And not to say that I'm going to be here the rest of my career, but I mean, you know, this first part of it, it's just I've never felt a release. I've never felt like God calling me to go somewhere else. But I also never felt like I don't have a vision and passion and direction for where I'm at and what I'm doing.

I, for me, I've always thought that would be a pretty clear sign is when I don't have a vision or direction for where I'm at, then that would be something telling me, like there's something not, not working anymore.

KV: Which is really interesting in this church because before I came, I was the same thing. I wanted to be in the same church for all my ministry. I went to two churches where I thought that would be it. One that was good, but didn't last. One that wasn't very good and thankfully didn't last. And came kind of dragging my tail to this congregation. So I came in as a wounded and hurting pastor out of a previous difficulty.

This church at the time was really wounded and hurting because they'd been through what five, I think I was the fifth pastor in 10 years.

GG: Yeah.

KV: There was a real revolving door. In fact, when I talk to people about interviewing at this church, a couple of them told me don't go there, it's a pastor killer. So the church had a real reputation as a revolving door. And now here we are talking about both of our longevity at a point where, when people hear not just each of our longevity, but our longevity together, they just, you can see them pausing to go, "Did I just hear that correctly?" So I don't even know what the question is going to be out of that. Let me ask it this way.

Since I wasn't around, before I showed up, what was the feeling? The environment? How did the church feel to you? You were young at the time, you know, in a young teenager, I didn't even know how much of a feel you had for it, but what did the church kind of feel like before that, in that 10-year span where they went through so many different pastors?

GG: I think it just, it was a church that was trying to figure out who they were. You know, we, we were just a small community church, and then we had a pastor come in who would really kind of try to blow it up. And he did, he grew the church and did a big building project and all of these things. And then he left because of some, not a, not necessarily moral thing, but he was gone through a divorce and some things happen.

So he left and then we had another pastor come in. And again, I think trying to find, who are what our church was and who our church was. And, and I think they kept trying to do that and never really understood what community Bible church at that point was and how it fit into this community and what it did.

I think that in the eighties, especially in the early nineties, there was a lot of churches trying to figure out what they were doing, because you have all these televangelists, you know, doing all these crazy things during that season. And you have these churches that are just trying to figure out who they are.

And I would say it's taken Cornerstone a long time, but it really wasn't until, you know, you came in and really helped figure out who we are and what we are in this community. And define who we are and not get caught up in what everybody else is and what everyone else is doing, but really becoming our own thing.

KV: Yeah. Yeah. And I think not the, but one of, I think the significant turning point moments for your ministry, my ministry, and for the ministry of the church was our lunch. When I came to try out for the job and they told me, "So there's this kid, Gary, and he kind of stepped in backwards into the youth department. And we know you as a, as a pastor, you get to pick your own staff. We honor that, but he's ours. Can you at least give them a shot?" And my first response was, "Well, then who is the kid I'm gonna talk to him. And I said, "You guys are going to pay for us to go to lunch." We went to lunch. I've heard you tell the story before you tell the story that we went to Olive Garden.

We did not. We went to Claim Jumper. Just to clear it up. I would never take anybody to Olive Garden. Just that's the only reason I bring it up. I remember it was a long lunch because we just kept going back and forth. And I remember multiple times during it, both of us kind of pausing and looking at it and going, "There's something here." Do you recall that lunch? And what do you recall from it?

GG: Not a lot. I mean, it was, for me, it was just, I I'd never done anything like that before because I would never been a pastor before. So interviewing and all that stuff. It was kind of the first step. I just remember being very nervous and, and trying to figure it out because there had been a couple of guys, they tried out before you, who I knew for sure weren't going to keep me. I just knew who they were. And I knew that they would be bringing in their own team and everything. And so I had almost kind of come to the reality of like, I'm probably going to have to let this youth group go and just figure out where I go from here. So for me, I think it was a lot of nerves.

KV: Yeah. For me, I had nothing to lose. I was the new guy. I was checking to see if I could work with you. It doesn't, it didn't have nearly the weight that it had for you. Am I going to be able to keep this job kind of a thing. But I do remember it being like, I think we brought two and a half hours and I remember at the end of it thinking, okay, there's something here that's special in kind of the way we approach things.

Now here's the deal, in the 29 years since then I have tried to figure out what that something special was because we're not polar opposite personalities, but it's pretty close. I mean, you and I liked different things, function in different ways. We have totally different strengths in ministries. When people know one of us and then meet the other, and then they realize those two of them working together?

And well for almost three decades, how in the world does that happen? Because anybody who knows us instantly just, it's just kind of a laugh of like, yeah, I know they couldn't be more different. So have you thought much about it? What are some of the things that have helped us? Cause we're talking not just about longevity in this podcast, but about our partnership for a long period of time because both of those things are so rare.

What do you think are some of the things that have kept us. Working functioning well together for such a long period of time.

GG: I think one of the, probably the major things, and I only see this now as, as someone who's been in youth ministry a long time and walked a lot of youth pastors through a lot of things is; with you and I there was never this never this fear of from your side that I'm just trying to build something. And, you know, I, I hear this fear from a lot of lead pastors that there's this inner fear of the guys behind them, just wanting to push them out and wanting to kind of take that position. On the other side, you have these youth pastors who will get frustrated with kind of what their lead pastor is doing or the direction or whatever, and just complain, complain, complain, complain.

And I don't feel like we were ever, neither one of us were at that point. I'd always looked at it like whatever your vision and direction is, that's what I'm going to do. And I'm going to make it happen to the best of my ability. I never thought I'd be a lead pastor. So that was never even on my radar.

And I never felt like I had to. I'm a good follower. Like as much as I am a good leader, I'm a good follower. And when there's a good leader in front of me, I have no problem following that leader and doing everything I can to support that leader. And so I think some of that was there wasn't this fear from each other.

We were never afraid of each other. We were never worried about what each other was doing. We were able to just kind of do our thing and, you know, we still meet, we still talk, I still share with you what we're doing in the youth ministry department, but there was never this underlying thing happening or things happening behind the scene. No drama behind the scenes. I mean, it was. I think it just really worked. It was just a good team.

KV: Yeah. You started that by talking about there, there are a lot of lead pastors who are worried that the guy behind him is going to push them out. And then a lot of youth pastors or young ministers when whatever their capacity is, who feel like the pastor is putting this ceiling on me. And so it's like each one of them has, has a feeling of being threatened by the other. The older guy, who's not willing to learn new ways. The younger guy, who's not willing to maybe honor the seniority or maybe is trying to move ahead in some new things and is being blocked for reasons that they can't really understand.

I always felt that it was my job to, to figure out how to say yes to every crazy idea that we could figure out how to say yes to. I was always grateful that there was somebody who was coming up with creative ideas. Cause I, I have never felt creative in my life. I'm not the guy. I mean, you know, I'm not the guy who comes up with the new way to paint the sanctuary, the new way to make this look good, the great new event is going to be whatever.

You always came up with them. And I was always grateful to hear the new ideas. I never felt like I had to be owning it. It didn't have to be my idea. I put it this way to people when I've talked to them, I said, "It's unspoken between us, but I think we've always had the idea. Best idea wins."

GG: Yeah.

KV: Right. It's not about that it's my idea or your idea. It's best idea wins.

GG: No, I definitely agree with that.

KV: As trying to assess it. I think so a couple of things, one, both of us have a common dual passion, one for Christ and two for the local church. Well, we're both part of a denomination and you have always been way more involved in denominational things with the youth end of things than I have.

We both understood that the primary things that Jesus has really called us to do. One is to be a part of his universal church, to be a part of the body of Christ. And two, that it functions best in the local congregation. Big church, small church doesn't matter, but that it's a local congregation where you know people and get to know people. You're held accountable.

And that if these other para-church organizations, from denominations to this podcast, if they're not serving the body of Christ in general, and the local church specifically, they don't have a reason for being.

GG: Yeah.

KV: Right. Everything is about the body of Christ and about the local church. And you and I, I think, I think I know, I think that that has always been our highest priority is how does this help the body of Christ move forward? How does this help the local congregation move forward?

And when we do that, I think it's helped us to keep our egos in check because both of us have them.

GG: Yeah.

KV: You're not without ego. I am not without ego. We both have them, but we always recognize that what Christ wants to do for his church comes above whatever I might want to do at that moment.

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So it's been 29 years that we've been together, 25 that I served as your lead pastor. And at about the 15- to 20-year section, I went through this whole difficult time, burnout, questioning everything. We had the whole transition of moving the congregation out of the church building on a Sunday morning and into the junior high school on Sunday morning.

We had dramatic numerical increase during that period of time. And then, an even more dramatic numerical drop out of nowhere from that. And I went through the whole, you know, leaving for 40 days. Didn't even know if I'd come back into ministry, let alone to this church. And of course, you know, it all ended up in being the, my first book, the grasshopper myth. And then sitting here today, having a podcast, it all was birthed out of that whole thing of, of the Lord helping to re readjust after a very, very difficult period of time.

How. How did you process that? What was that like for you as, as my number one, go-to backup guy to watch me go through that and then to see how it was impacting the church. I don't think you and I have ever even sat down and just talk through how that all felt from your end of things.

GG: Yeah. It was a crazy time because I was definitely on the side of, we need to go back to the church. I think where the problem. Nah, there's probably a lot of things that went wrong, but one of the biggest things that went wrong with the moving into the school and trying to increase that way was we were so busy. It's set up and tear down that we lost the opportunity to build community with everybody and ultimately it affected everything.

So when that happened, I didn't know what for sure you were going to do. The conversation that we had, you know, at the end of that I told Amy like, I don't know. I don't know if he's coming back or not. So I'm, I'm one to really kind of, in a crisis situation is when I really do well. And so it was one of those moments where I just kind of stood up and, and led.

I don't even know if I ever told you this, that I met with the board after that. And I told them, you know we are going to act as if he's coming back and we are going to carry ourselves in that way. And I need you guys to all step up and get behind us. And I'm still serving the way that you're serving.

There was a lot of chatter. Amongst some of the people in the church, understandably. I, there was probably three or four families in the church that I went to their house and visited them personally and asked them, I said, I'm asking you personally asking you to stick around, to stick with us through this because in the end, I don't know what's going to happen.

I do believe he's going to come back, but if he doesn't, then I'm definitely going to need you guys to help figure out where we go from. So so for me, it was just kind of a long period of waiting and having certain conversations with everybody, but still be in the mode that, I mean, we've talked about this plenty of times still being in the mode of protecting you, and protecting the church.

Even though I didn't know for sure what was going to take place, I just knew we had to keep it together. So that was kinda my, my mindset. It was almost kind of how someone would act in, in crisis. Just looking to make sure everything's secure and taken care of and nothing else can go wrong. And, and just kinda that headspace.

And then for me, it was just kind of what do we do now? I mean, I had a, I'm always the type that has four different scenarios in my head, ready to play out if we if we do it. And so it was everything from do I lead for a season? Do we start the process of trying to find somebody? If he comes back, awesome we go from here. But we're going to have a bit of a stuff to kind of clean up a little bit. So I had all these different things in my head of what I was going to do if this scenario happened.

KV: Yeah. It's interesting hearing it from you because I was, my headspace was so completely cut off from everything that I, I was not paying attention even to the church that I left behind for a season while I left behind.

Cause I just had to get my own head, heart, mind, spirit straight again. It leads me to a phrase you used with me a couple of times. In your being my number one, being the Aaron to my Moses or whatever you want to call it. Although I hate putting myself in the Moses position, nevertheless, we all know what that means.

There were several times where, especially during that season when things were difficult and so, you know, things start stirring underneath and gossip starts happening here and there. Where you came to me and said, okay, I'm bringing you something and it's not because I'm a gossip mongers, not because I'm stirring the pot, but the phrase you used that I, as I remember it was, I don't want you fighting a battle you don't even know you're fighting.

And so you made me aware of things so that I could address them rather than having it get big. Walk me through some of that process and what was going on with that. And how would you maybe even encourage others who are in a position to support their lead pastor? What that means for them?

GG: Yeah. Yeah. I don't even know where I necessarily learned that as much as probably the story of Jonathan in the Bible is probably my, obviously minus Jesus, is one of my favorite ones to read and go through and understand, because I just, I love his story. You know, someone who has meant to be the next king gives it all the way to back up David.

And so the story of him and his armor-bearer is something that always interested me. And I read a lot. And obviously, you read the books and different things, but I mean, it's just simply that. The idea of any person in ministry, if you have someone above you, if you have especially a lead pastor above you, to honor that and know that God chose them to lead, not you.

And so what is your role? Your role is to protect, even if you don't necessarily like the direction that they're going or the decisions that they're making. You're welcome to leave. You're welcome to quit. But if you are going to take a paycheck, if you are going to be on someone's staff, then by all means you should honor them. You should guard them. You should protect them until God calls you somewhere else. And but for me, even after that, you still honor and protect those that came before.

And so it was the idea of, you know, not letting things get out of control. And the one thing I see that kind of destroys churches is some of these pastors who end up going crazy because people are mad at them and they have no idea. People leave. And we've, we've sat through meetings before where people have left the church and it's not until that meeting that they let us know that they even have a problem. And instead of telling us months ago, or, and so I just got tired of that. And honestly, I just got tired of people.

And, and the way they did that because it just is so unfair and it's not biblical in any way, shape, or form. And so I just kinda decided, you know, from here on out, if I know something, I I'm gonna let him know because I would want to know. If someone's mad at me, if someone's upset with me, if someone doesn't like something that I'm doing, if they're not gonna have the guts to tell me themselves, I hope someone does. So I can try to address it before it blows up into something. It should never be.

KV: Yeah. Yeah. And you were able to be the bearer of difficult tidings in a way where you, you were not perceived in any way as a pot stir. Because one, you didn't have that reputation and two the manner in which you brought it up was obviously to find a solution and not just simply to make a mess of things.

GG: Yeah.

KV: So that was always helpful. But I want to go back to probably the question that most people have been asking during this entire conversation. And you kind of touched on it a little bit at the beginning, but I want to wait until now. And that is this, so how do you stay fresh 30 years in the same place, especially in youth ministry, which is such a fast-moving target.

How do you stay fresh? Stay innovative for 30 years in the same place? Because it's not just me sitting here going well because I know you and like you, I think you're innovative. You have a reputation in the churches immediately surround us and throughout the nation and around the world, you go around and you speak at all kinds of youth conferences to youth and to youth pastors.

You've got a whole network of youth pastors who look up to you as a, as an innovator, as someone whose new ideas they want to hear. Today, we had a hard time even pulling this conversation together because you're receiving a whole bunch of youth speakers who are coming in this weekend for a youth refresher for youth pastors.

So it's not just that I think you stayed fresh and innovative, but you have, you got a reputation for that. So how do you do that? How do you continue to stay fresh in exactly the same place for three decades?

GG: Yeah, I mean, being in the same place so long, and I'm not saying this just because you're in the room, has a lot to do with who your senior pastor is. Like, I served under a senior pastor who was always there, was not a micromanager, and let me gave me plenty of room to fail. And to learn from that failure and to do it better next time. And so I never felt like I couldn't do anything. I never felt like there was something in youth ministry that if I went to you and said, can I try this?

That you would say, no, you might give me some pointers. You might give me some thoughts, but you'd always give me a chance to try it. And because of that, I never got bored in youth ministry. I've never, I mean, this isn't an arrogance thing. I've never used the word burnout to describe myself in any way, shape, or form in ministry.

I've just, I have not experienced that. I've been tired, physically tired, and worn out, but I've never experienced a time where I just felt like I am just burned out and sick of ministry and don't want to do it anymore. And I think some of that has to do with again, who, who your lead pastor is, is huge. What your church is like is huge. We have always had a very supportive church of youth ministry. I mean, they let us take up half the parking lot to build a skate park.

KV: The stuff that they have let you and me both do for 30 years right now, if we were to go through the list, it would make people gasp. The stuff they let us get away with and it to experiment with. And if it fails, they just go, oh, well, let's try something else next time.

GG: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so that's huge. And then I mean a lot of it to be able to stay relevant this long and youth ministry is who I'm surrounding myself with. And, you know, so I have a lot of friends that are my age and, and been in youth ministry a little bit.

And so, you know, I I'll have the veterans in my life, but more importantly, I constantly am surrounding myself with younger youth pastors for two reasons. One, it gives me the opportunity to teach important to them and everything that I've learned in youth ministry. But two, I learned so much from. Because if I'm going to stay relevant and youth ministry, I'm 50 years old and, you know, I'm not on the same stuff and doing the same things.

I couldn't tell you, I can tell you a little bit, but I couldn't tell you in-depth, what music 16-year-olds are listening to right now, who's the greatest artist right now that they're all listening to, or the clothing line or whatever it is. I don't know, but I've surrounded myself with people who do know and they make sure I know.

And so I've learned so much from the younger generation, up-and-comers, and I think sometimes as pastors, we kind of take this and I don't want to say this in the wrong way, but this kind of arrogant pride of like I've been in it. I, you know, I've earned where I'm at and I've, you know, I know what's best.

And my gosh, man, ministry changes so much, and church changes so much. And, you know, even as a 50-year-old pastor right now, there's things that young couples or young marrieds are going through and doing that I'm still learning in. So, so much of what has made me last as who I've surrounded myself with and, and being open to really learn from the next generation and the younger guys. And, and have a willingness to change if you want to survive in ministry, but especially in youth ministry and you hate change?

You're going to, you're not in for a long career because youth ministry changes, not just yearly, you know, sometimes weekly. And I was telling our our high school pastor today, I was telling them, you know your youth group will not be the same a year from now. Your youth group changes every year and you have to adapt with that and you have to grow with that.

And so I've always thought change is a good thing. I love it. I thrive on it. I'm excited by it. You know, we'd always kind of relaunched our youth ministry every year, which is something that worked for us because I, you know, there was things that we were doing that I would say if I was going to start a youth ministry today, would I still do these things?

And so we were constantly looking to update, upgrade, do new things. And so all of that kind of gave me the excitement and the passion. Like if I would've just stayed in youth ministry for 20 years and done the same thing that I've been doing when I started, I would have gotten bored a long time ago, but there's this willingness to change and adapt and grow what you have to have in youth ministry.

KV: I think some of it is I've been looking at it, even in my situation now with doing this. Every once in a while, a lot of travel I'll have a pastor come to me and go, "Is your church, okay with you traveling and being on these things?" And my answer is they absolutely see this as an extension of our church's ministry and not as a departure from it.

And we've always done that for you. I remember years ago when the district youth rep at the time would call me every year about I'd like Gary to serve on this. I'd like Gary to oversee this and, you know, always had to get permission from the lead pastor. And after, you know, two or three years of it, I found said, "Drew, you don't have to call me again. You got to, he's got a green light on anything he wants to do whatever." And he paused and he went, "Man, I wish I could talk to more pastors like that." And it wasn't that I was trying to somehow be special or even pat my back myself in the back right now.

But it seems to me, especially if somebody is going to stay in the same place. For a long time, which is really the positives of long-term stay are huge. In fact, the podcast right before this one is with Rich Brown, about the value of extended stays. He actually wrote a book about it. But if you're going to stay for a really long period at the same time, you have to stay fresh, you have to keep learning.

And one of the ways that I want to keep myself fresh, and that I wanted to allow you to keep fresh, is to be able to do ministry that isn't just inside the four walls of the church.

GG: Yeah.

KV: So when you're out and you're conducting a youth camp and you're speaking to other youth pastors, and you're learning from them, and they're learning from you, all of that interchange of relationships and ideas benefits the local church. And I think some of us, maybe what you were talking about earlier, the whole pushback between some lead pastors and youth pastors, some of that is that we've got the sense that if I do something outside the walls of the church, or if I go over here and I'm spending my time on denominational stuff, I'm going and speaking because they asked me to speak across the country and I'm not going to be at home at church on a Sunday.

This feeling that I'm somehow is pulling away from the church and devaluing their time at the church. It's just a mindset I think we have to shift from. I mean, obviously, there are going to be some people who just are using the church as a basis to build their own little kingdom. Obviously, those that can happen.

But if you've really got someone who's got a sincere heart for ministry, doing things outside the walls of the church that still sustain and promote the body of Christ will ultimately help the local congregation as well.

GG: Yeah.

KV: Right. So I've seen that happen with you and because I gave you permission then I think that that's part of the reason the church turned around and gave me permission. Like how can we not give him permission to go? He's been letting everybody else go forever. I mean, how many interns have we sent off into ministry? How many students from the local colleges and universities have graduated and we've seen them go off into ministry. I mean, if we were, if we were number counters, we'd have a pretty massive number, right now. But besides that, because it's always been about sending.

GG: Yeah.

KV: So they say the average pastor lasts, I think somewhere from three to five years, I think it's actually gone up recently, which is good. The average youth pastor stay is I think under two years. It's really, really short. So what would you say to a staff pastor of any type of particular, the youth pastor, which tends to be a more volatile situation? What would be some advice you would give? One, about the importance of longevity, and two, how to, how to stay in for the longest.

GG: It's all about calling. If you're called to students, then, you know, make that a calling. You know, for me, it was never, even now, if someone asks me, what is your calling? My calling is to reach young people for Jesus.

That's not changed. That hasn't. Even when I took the lead position, that's still my calling. Do I feel like God has opened the door for me to lead and I'm supposed to lead Cornerstone right now. But my calling is still to reach young people for Jesus. And, and so I would challenge anyone like, you know, it's easy to kinda get in this mindset that I have to climb a ladder, or I have to keep moving up in this step, but we need youth pastors who are going to be youth pastors for, you know, decades, not a few years to, to get to something else.

I had, I think the thing that pushed me was in my junior high and high school years I had five different youth pastors. Right. And you can see it from my spiritual life and where I was at and where I was, what I was. And I'd never wanted to be that I never wanted to be just kind of the move onto the next big thing.

And so none of those things ever decided what I was going to do. So I would encourage you. And I know we've got to take care of our families. We've got to do those things, but don't let finances don't let a bigger church, don't let the grass is greener on the other side mentality ever make you decide what you want to do.

Don't ever decide you're calling. Allow God to do that. And I'm really big on being released from places. Like I really do believe that the Holy Spirit, you know, when it's time, he will release us from somewhere, if we're supposed to go somewhere else. But I feel like he's going to make that clear. And I think too many guys jump at money and there's so many pastors that I know that aren't in ministry anymore because they have.

KV: Well, it's interesting. Cause we both seen it in, you know, in the last 30 years, almost 30 years, we worked together. We've watched, as people have made the jump and you know, in your heart or, you know, simply because you know them that they made the jump for money or for size. And I don't have numbers, but I'm going to say the majority of them had a very bad experience very quickly after doing that. Many of them are not in ministry today.

Some of them might even consider themselves, you know, evangelical or deconstructing their faith because of the bad experience they had. And I'm not saying you can't move and I'm not saying the God won't ever take you to a larger church or to a higher salary. I'm not saying that at all, but if that's the reason, it was truly your calling and it also happens to be a bigger church and it also happens to be more money or the church grows under your ministry and those things happen. God bless you. That's great.

But when that's the reason for it, I've never seen it work out. There was a season for me, where I felt like I was the guy left behind while everybody else was going off and doing bigger and better things. But even then I didn't leave because I still wasn't released to go.

This was still the place I was going to stay, even if I couldn't understand why. And even if I got mad at God for it, it was like, I'm mad at you for keeping me here. God, I don't get why I'm stuck here, but you're, you're keeping me here, so I'm going to stay. And going through that difficult season, brought out a whole new clarity for me, for the church in our, and our ministry partnership together and now to a season where both of us are doing things in a ministry relationship that nobody could ever have put a ten-year plan for. Right. But it only happened because we decided we are going to stay until God releases us to go somewhere else. It's not going to be for any other reasons.

GG: I would tell pastors, no matter what role your lead, youth, kids, whatever role you're in, in ministry is. Man, stop chasing the ministry and enjoy it. You know, that's one of the reasons I've lasted. I've enjoyed where I'm at. I've had so much fun doing ministry. And are there problems? Yes, we're working with people. There's always going to be problems. My enjoyment of ministry is so much bigger than the times that I've been frustrated or disappointed or any of those things.

I've just enjoyed it. And, and part of that is, and I talk to young youth pastors about this all the time. Stop looking up ahead and trying to figure out what's next and just live in where you're at. And enjoy where you're at. These, you know, the group of students that I have at any given time, you know, I know it's not forever, so I'm going to enjoy every moment that I get and disciple them in every way that I can.

And I would tell any pastor the same thing don't, don't get focused in this what's next mentality. And, and don't continue just to chase ministry, enjoy it. Like, enjoy ministry. If you don't enjoy ministry, you're doing it wrong. If all you're feeling is frustration, anger, then you're, you're doing it wrong.

And you know, it's for you to kind of figure that out and take a look at what's going on to figure out why you're not enjoying it. But I can honestly say I've enjoyed doing ministry. It's been so much fun. And I've grown so much and I couldn't imagine doing anything else, but I've also, haven't spent half my career here.

And there's been a season for sure when I think, is there something bigger, something next, but I figured out pretty quickly when I stopped taking the phone calls of people wanting to say, Hey, would you pray about this? Would you send your resume? I don't need to pray about it because I know where I'm at. I know where I'm supposed to be.

And you know, there was a season where I'd get phone calls from different pastors and say, would you pray about coming here? And I finally just stopped taking the calls because I don't really believe it's going to be God talking to someone else. I think it's, God's going to let me know if it's my time. So I just stopped entertaining the ideas of bigger, better somewhere else and just lived where I was at. And dug deep and planted roots and made the decision I'm in this for the long haul.

KV: Yeah. Well, speaking of God, letting you know, first, if it was your time to move into another phase of ministry that will lead to our next podcast, where we're going to get into this whole transition where we had a conversation that you initiated the idea.

What it might look like if you were the lead pastor and if I stuck around and how all that worked. So it's going to take at least a full podcast to unpack all of that, but I think there's going to be a lot of help in it because we do not do pastoral transition well, in general. Certainly not in the American church.

There, there may be spots in the road where they do it well, but I'm not aware of any of them. And so anything that we have been able to learn through our process, we're going to share that in the next podcast. When we come back, we'll talk about pastoral transition and the continued partnership that happens even after that occurred. So thanks for this today. We'll see you next time.

Enjoy ministry. What a concept, but this talk had so much more to it than that. Isn't it great to know that long-term ministry is not just possible, but it can be really rewarding? For the pastor, for the local congregation, and for the church at large. We have a lot more ground to cover with Gary in our next episode when we talk about pastoral transition and how we did that together.

But for now, let's ask the question, can this work in a small church? Can we stay in the same local congregation while growing deeper? And can we maintain long-term healthy relationships with our ministry partners in a small congregation? Obviously, the answer today is yes, but we need to be sure we follow a few essential steps.

First, our commitment has to be to Christ and his kingdom, not our own little territories. Second, we need to stay in strong relationships with those who can teach us and with those who can walk alongside us, and with those who we can bring into ministry with us. Thirdly, we need to see outside the walls ministry as an extension of our inside the walls ministry, not as a distraction from. And fourth, but not finally because there was an awful lot of ground covered in this one. We need to be so sure of our colleagues that we won't be diverted from it. My hard times on the one hand were my shiny offers on the other hand.

And don't forget October 2021 is our first-ever support drive. Check out the link in the show notes, or go to KarlVaters.com/support to help us keep these resources coming to those who need them the most. Do you want a transcript of this episode? It will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/KarlVaters. Find the link in the show notes.

This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of JackWilkinsmusic.com. Podcast local was created by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com. And me? I'm KV and I'm a small church pastor.

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