In the midst of so much change, what does not change? 3 things
I moved to Cairo, Egypt when I was 22 years old to serve as a Youth Pastor for an international church. I was about to graduate from college and was ready to pursue my dream. My dream was simple. I wanted to help people and live an adventurous life. Upon arrival, I learned that my job would be mentoring young people, developing small group leaders, planning retreats and teaching/preaching. What an adventure, I thought! I remember being initially shocked by how similar my work with teens in Egypt was to my work prior with teens in the U.S. Even though these students lived abroad, they still went on retreats and they still struggled with finding friends and they were still looking for identity. Even though much of my work was the same, there was also a lot about my ministry in Cairo that was very different from ministry in the U.S..
For one, the question “Where are you from?” did not make sense to most of our international students. For most of them, they were born somewhere then moved to ten different places before they arrived in Cairo. So they didn’t know how to answer, “Where are you from?” Second, most of our international students did not grow up in a church that had a youth group. Because many of the families had lived all over the world, they did not have expectations for how a youth group should function or what we should do together. In this ministry context in Cairo, our youth group became one of the most popular places for teens to hang out. We had snacks and games and a large team of American college students who were there to build a youth program and to build relationships with teens. This made for a rewarding and fruitful season of ministry of which I will be forever grateful.
As I reflect back on the differences between my two ministry contexts, the states and Cairo, Egypt, it causes me to think about all of the change in ministry contexts that is happening today. Today we talk about what has changed because of COVID-19. How has COVID-19 impacted your ministry, people ask? The answer is so vast, it is difficult to know where to start. We don’t meet face to face anymore because it seems almost every week we have a COVID exposure. We don’t give hugs anymore. We don’t go in to each other homes. We are not sitting side by side in worship. If we do sing in church, we are doing so with masks on.
For pastors and church leaders trying to lead the way, we might as well have moved to a new country. The rules are different. The language is different. The needs of our people are different. How we meet these needs are different.
And what of the future? We don’t know. But we can count on one thing: Change. Change is certain.
And all of this change has me asking the question, “What are the things that never change?”
I have been a Youth Pastor for 14 years now. And in 14 years of ministry, lots has changed. But here are three things that have never changed about ministry. I will spend the coming weeks developing a theological rationale for why we, as church leaders and pastors and church people, should never neglect these three things. And I will give specific examples of how I am doing this in my ministry context. My hope is to inspire creativity and optimism in you for this season of life.
People were created for relationships. Even if the next generation does not go to church in a building where there are multiple services, 45-minute sermons and retreats, they will still long for relationships with other like-minded people. As a church leader, make sure that you are investing time and resources in building, maintaining and deepening relationships with your church members. I meet with at least three people in my ministry per week. Whether it is pastoral care via zoom or taking chic-fil-a to a student at their home and sitting on the back patio with a mask, I make it a goal to have “face time” with multiple people every week.
People were created for community and belonging. More than just relationships, people are looking for relationship with others who have a shared experience. As a church leader, how are you facilitating space for people to be seen and known right now? I recently began a “Parenting Together” group that meets once a month on Zoom for parents of teens. The goal is simple. Get parents who are dealing with similar issues together to support and pray for one another while sharing wisdom. One of my parents told me recently, “It is so good to know that I am not alone.”
It may sound cliché. But say it to yourself: God has not changed. God is not dismayed, taken off guard or wringing God’s hands yet. How are you seeking God’s wisdom this week for your church and what is next for you? At the beginning of COVID, I was in awe of our Lead Pastor, Reagan Waggoner at the Vineyard Church, who led us in prayer every week asking for God’s wisdom. He taught on God’s wisdom. He called the church members to pray for God’s wisdom. He was quick to ask questions and listen to the staff and others around him. He set aside time to intentionally listen to God and he did not apologize for saying “I don’t know” to some questions that he needed more time on. We need more leaders like this. How are you listening to God and cultivating wisdom in this season?
In the midst of so much change, people needing community, belonging and God’s great wisdom are some things that never change.