“I’m biblically illiterate, I don’t have a heart for students, I smoke cigars, have tattoos, like wine, and I can have a dirty mouth, on occasion.”Those words left my mouth and found the ears of a Southern Baptist Senior Pastor, over lunch, during the course of my first interview for the youth pastor opening at his church.
I didn’t want the gig. Well, let me take that back. I was open to the idea, but felt unqualified; and on paper, I was a complete trainwreck for the position. I can’t overstate that. My resume consisted of lame sales jobs and a music career that had crashed and burned. Yet, here I was, sitting across the table, from this pastor, interviewing for the position while simultaneously trying to talk my way out of it.
To add to my disinterest, I had grown up as a pastor’s kid, the kind that gives “PK” the reputation it carries. There was nothing about ministry that seemed “shiny” or sounded life-giving to me. I saw, first-hand, what ministry could do to a person when my dad hit the “detonate button” and had affairs, divorced my mom, and went to sell real estate. Did I also mention I also hadn’t attended church regularly for the past ten years?
Why was I even interviewing? Because, as a 33 year old guy, for the first time in my life, I was simply trying to be obedient to God. But, why now?
I had a change of “heart.”
Two years earlier, I found myself lying on a bed in an ER, near death. It was my heart. It was doing everything it wasn’t supposed to do, and after failed attempts by the doctors to stabilize me, my situation was dire. I knew it, and so did they.
As I lay there, monitoring the monitors hooked up to me, the machines were unified in communicating one simple message:
“You Are Screwed.”
I was afraid and filled with regret. My fear was rooted in a question I found myself asking, “What would happen to me on the other side of my last breath?” I wasn’t sure. Then, I had an epiphany. I realized, in that moment, that mentally assenting to the Gospel wasn’t the same as knowing Christ. Then I began to think about my life, and another realization hit me: if I were to die that day, January 31, 2002, I knew I would’ve left this earth having not fulfilled my purpose for being here.
So, I prayed.
As I stared at the ceiling tiles, I said,
“God, if you can hear me, if you give me another chance, I will commit my life to pursuing what it means to really know you, and I will do whatever your purpose is for me. Please give me another shot…in Jesus’ name, amen.”
Within moments of this prayer, my heart snapped back into a perfect rhythm, and all the beeping and messages of impending doom from the machines soon retreated back to a quiet hum. Little did I know that this desperate prayer would lead me to a lunch, interviewing for the position of “youth pastor.”
So, as we were wrapping up our lunch meeting, the pastor said, “I’m going to pray about you and this position, and I’ll call you in a week.” While driving away from this lunch, I majorly fleeced God. I said “Father, knowing how unqualified and disinterested I am, IF this guy calls me back and says, ‘You’re the guy,’ I will do it.”
A week later, I got the call that would forever change the course of my life. The voice on the other end was the Senior Pastor saying, “David, we’ve prayed, and we believe you’re the guy.”
I’ll never forget my first Wednesday night, staring into the faces of those eleven students, thinking, “God, what in the heck am I supposed to do now?” That question has become the prayer of my life and ministry, and I’m good with that, because God has never failed to answer it.
With the challenges of leading and ministering to students, dealing with angry parents, the tough conversations, sermon prep or trying to fill 500 water balloons 30 minutes before an event, I’ve come to learn that the place where God wants to keep me is in the place of asking, “God, what in the heck am I supposed to do now?”
Throughout this journey, I’ve been blessed to discover and communicate the unlimited beauty and power of the scriptures coupled with my real love for students. I would add that the last ten years of my life have proven to be THE MOST challenging, rewarding and life-giving years of my life.
As you read this, maybe the circumstances surrounding what led you to youth ministry are different from mine, but we’ve all had our “first Wednesday night,” staring into the faces of our students, feeling unqualified.
For you, maybe, over time, in the midst of the pressures of ministry, sin struggles, disappointment, wounds inflicted on your soul, or burnout, you’ve come to question the call you once so eagerly answered, and maybe it’s not that you feel “unqualified” but rather, disqualified.
Go back to what you knew to be true when you first said “yes.” You were called and are called.
Hang on to that question of total dependence:
“God, what the heck am I supposed to do now?”
He will answer that question for you, because this prayer puts you right where He wants you.
And then, personally own this often quoted phrase for yourself: “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”
We ARE called, and so we go, unqualified and destined to be so.
This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. (1 Corinthians 1:25-26 NLT)
Header image provided through creative commons by Daniele Zedda.