Friday, March 16, 2007

Moving past blaming (even myself)

Last week everything was getting to me. It seemed like one problem was piling onto another with the ministry, and there was no way I was going to climb out from under it with any sort of future. It took me over 20 minutes to get my socks and pants on one morning, and I cried about every day that week (I usually cry once a year or so.)

Things still do not feel like they are going well. But I seem to have gained a little bit of perspective, thanks to a quick lesson on team dynamics and some focused thinking on my time here in this place.

When I came to Colorado Springs I was clear that I needed a strong team around me in order to implement the kind of ministry God was calling me to lead. I emphasized team ministry so much that the Senior Pastor sarcastically asked me if I do anything else. I was assured when I came that we had a team in place to do youth ministry.

When I arrived, it was made clear that I needed to recruit a team of people to commit to working with the youth weekly for the next year in the first week and a half without knowing anyone. Thankfully, we had a middle school sunday school teacher. I was automatically put in with sr. high, and I found a couple of people to work with me.

Of course, I came here after having being told that we had 15 middle school and 25 high school youth attending youth group each week. When I showed up, we had 9 kids for the first outing, and 7 kids for the first month of youth group. That was middle school and high school combined. I don't think the people on the committee lied. Actually, it quickly came to be known that none of those people were directly involved with the churches youth ministry, including the youth representative.

From the start, the ministry I tried to lead had a lot of anger and baggage. In the last 4 years, they had four different people in my position. Two had been asked to leave. One had been a strong leader that did a lot by force of personality, and left after a little more than a year (as most people who do things by force of personality do in youth work). The other was the children's person who had filled in half time in the interim period. As a result, there was an alternative youth group within the church that refused to come along and support the church's offficial ministry. There were powerful parents who were unwilling to support a summer trip to most of the places we looked at. And, we had leaders who from the start tried to run the group themselves. Not to mention, each of the leaders was gone at least 1/4 of the time with the youth group I was leading.

Nevertheless, we gained a few people and grew a little bit in that first year. On our trip, we had people drop out at the last minute, and other people decide they were going to jump in and go for the ride to San Diego. Most of the kids had a good experience, but the adult leadership was difficult to deal with. And, by the end of the first year, one well-monied powerful family was out to run me out of town.

I went on vacation at the end of the summer, came back, and the family that had a difficult time with me blamed it all on my weight and appearance and wanted me disciplined. Even though I led the youth on two major trips that summer (they had done one in the last four years), I was told that I did not fit the image they wanted to project.

So, this along with our children's minister's departure from staff meant that I had to start the team over again. The only folks that really stayed around the whole year were my friend Dan and his future wife Jennifer. Other people we had on board would come along for a couple of weeks and then resign their position in working with the youth. Nevertheless, we grew a little bit more. That summer we had a trip to South Dakota that was a little bit smaller, but it was full of younger teens with a lot of energy.

The next year we transferred our middle school sunday school teacher up to youth ministry. By the fall of that year we had doubled in size from our original 7-9 kids, and we had new teens visiting each week. It felt like we had synergy. Our youth team was also antsy with what was going on with the rest of the church and was pushing a alternative worship service with me leading it. Things felt like we had forward momentum.

Starting in the fall of 2005 the youth team started being more animated about the need for a second worship service. They went to my boss, and each told him seperately that if he did not support the second service and push it forward and advocate for it they were going to leave the church. So, my boss came into the meeting I was leading and basically forced the service ahead in November 0f 2005. I was holding out for making sure we had a core group of leaders and musicians to lead, plan and set up the service to make it a ministry that was going to be viable long term, and not lay on the shoulders of too small of a group. I lost.

The service went from January to May 2006. By May, the core team had gotten burnt out and tired of change not coming fast enough, and they stopped being committed to helping with the service. It died. And with the death of the service, both families began to seek other places to worship. Once again I had to start over with a new team of people. I was devestated by this, but comforted because I seemed to enjoy strong relationships with these friends in spite of their departure. So much so that both couples have stayed committed to the young adult ministry I lead to this day.

Starting in the fall, the worship wars ensued, with the more powerful lobby pushing a more traditional worship agenda. More people left during this time as the worship moved in a less kid friendly direction. In November, in addition to our tug of war about worship, we also began a congregational spat over the homosexuality issue. More families left at this time.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to find people who are willing to committ on a weekly basis. The junior high Sunday school teacher I had lined up to teach after Christmas dropped at the last minute. My service activity leader refused to show up or help plan any service activities. In November, our worship people with youth group left the church and thus could not help with youth group. Last month my small group leader with three children in youth group left the church looking for a larger church with better preaching and a larger youth group. As the second family left I again got the "Its not you...." speech, and they offered to be a reference and explain the difficulties of the challenges I faced to future employers.

At the same time that the homosexuality debate was beginning, one of the couples that had been helping me with youth group decided to return with their teen daughter. As they have returned they have been more and more critical of our youth ministry and my leadership of it because of the loss in numbers.

Last week this all came to a head for several reasons. First, the couple that returned wants to make the youth room into a coffee bar, which would not always be a bad thing. It is, in fact, a really good idea. The problem is, we do not have a cart or anything like it, so it makes our youth area another place where we cannot run and play and goof around (basically like everywhere in our frumpy church). When I disagreed on the location for the coffee bar, they got angry with me and made my whole ministry miserable.

At the same time I had a parent/teen meeting to discuss the future of youth group. In this meeting the parents and teens basically told me that if I was a more charasmatic, exciting leader than everything would work out a whole lot better.

There were a lot of other things going on as well, and it seemed like at the time I was most depressed I had more things piled on my plate to deal with than I could bear. I about just threw in the towel by Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, I had time to reflect. As my girlfriend came over after her staff retreat to work on team development, I had an epiphany. First of all, with my skill set it is extremely hard for me to get things done without a committed team of supporting people around me. I am an intelligent, strong strategic leader with a lot of gifts. I am not the charasmatic,entreprenurial type of person that can make something out of nothing by force of my personality.

I am a plodder who does my best work in a group of people that have been committed to helping me for quite a while. This is why our young adult ministry is sucessful. I have had a consistent weekly team of people doing the same ministry with me for nearly four years.

I am beginning to move past blaming for what has happened, both blaming myself and blaming others. Our church has been falling apart. I have not had a consistent team. Other people have all had their own issues to struggle with and deal with as well.

There is no use blaming myself for the problems at First Baptist. It is not all about me.

There is no use blaming God for sending me to the wrong place. I have to trust.

There is no use blaming the people who could not hack being a long term part of the youth ministry. They each had their own issues.

There is no use blaming people who attack me. The Lord is my shield and defender.

The only option now is to move forward. And to begin to look for what God has for me next, because what it feels like what this church needs right now is someone else besides me.


wilsonian said...

Wow, Tuck... I could feel the weight building as I read through this post. A steep up-hill climb, that's for sure.

I'm glad to hear that you've found some kind of resolution in your heart. I'll be praying as you move forward.

Some advice for driving out of a skid on an icy road would work in this circumstance... look in the direction you want to go, and you'll automatically steer correctly. If you look where you're currently going and try to steer elsewhere, you'll end up in the ditch every time.

Gretchen said...

I havn't commented in a while but as I was reading your post I had this feeling of dejavu and I had to write my thoughts!
This kind of thing happens so much in churches. It's mostly about power, judgement and pride. These are the three most damaging traits to Christians! I have seen this in my home church (thankfully God intervened) and I saw it in the chruch where I worked as youth support staff. Ironically that was a First Baptist as well.

Anyways, It sounds like it has just been a complete uphill battle and it seems like a really good thing to move away from. It actually sounds EXTREMELY toxic.
Good things come when we move and change.

David Cho said...

Very sad and not surprising.

Church politics tend to be often much worse than office politics. Far worse, because people throw around the name of God around and use it as a weapon in a very self-serving way.

Hang in there.

St. Brianstine said...

Wow, are still in YM? I just randomly found your blog, I'm in YM also. I can identify with some of this.