It has been six months since I left my position as student pastor in Montgomery to come to Birmingham. It was my first opportunity to pastor a group of students and with that came a wellspring of valuable mistakes, failures, excitement, highs, lows and everything in-between.
Rookie mistake #1 : I overcommitted.
Looking back, it seems obvious that I should not have committed to so many different things, but at the time they seemed urgent, needed and obligatory. Sunday mornings included worship and discipleship classes, Sunday nights were spent with our young married small group, Tuesday nights were devoted to college and young adults, Wednesday nights were with students, Friday nights held sporting events and some Saturdays were focused on big events, retreats, mission projects or hangouts. Throw commuting forty-five minutes to and fro into the mix along with a full time seminary load and it became overwhelmingly burdensome.
All these things were good in and of themselves but they robbed me of critical time at home.
Rookie mistake #2 : I longed for more people.
I heard countless times, “How many students are in your group?” When I would respond with the number, the normative response would be, “That is good for your first job. When you get more experience, God will give you more students.”
I don’t understand that line of Biblical logic but it become lodged in my subconscious and became a source of constant frustration. How many leaders could I get to come? How many students came compared to last year? Was my event bigger than their event?
While it was never verbalized, it must have been evident.
So many times an event was judged on the number of participants and my excitement over a particular opportunity was founded in the mass appeal of it all. My focus should have clearly been on individual souls.
Rookie mistake #3 : I was distracted.
Every day seemed like a whirlwind. There were so many things to get done: videos to edit, letters to write, emails to send, meetings to attend, ideas to brainstorm, lessons to study and sermons to record.
With all these good things going on, it was effortless to forget the purpose of why I was called into ministry. Shockingly, even within the confines of the church I forgot my purpose. I kept myself busy with so many tasks that I neglected the very reason I was there.
With all these ministerial tasks, the church, and in particularly my office, felt like a prison cell instead of a place of refueling and encouragement.
Rookie mistake #4 : I taught wants not needs.
If you ask any student what they want to learn about on a typical Wednesday night, most likely 95% of the guys will say sex and 100% of the girls will say either relationships or gossip. We could literally spend sixth through twelfth grade focused on those two topics and the students would seem perfectly content.
That’s what they wanted, not what they needed.
They need to hear the gospel and they need to understand why our response to it is so urgent.
I needed to set the bar high and push them to reach it instead of setting the bar so low that they would inevitably reach it with normative moral character development.
It is by no means flashy or hilarious but it does transform lives and with it comes the opportunity to build a deep foundation for future years instead of a weak, fragile faith they leave before they leave the teen years.