It is hard to believe where the time goes but I am coming up on completing the fourth decade of life and beginning a new one. As is typical with the last time this happened 10 years ago, I go through a massive time of introspection on all that happened over the past 10 years - the good, the bad and the ugly. I take a good hard look at who I was at the beginning of the last decade and who I am now as I look forward to the next decade.
Reflecting on the Past 10 years:
The Good - My youngest child was born in 2001. My health has been good. I am still in youth ministry and feel stronger than ever that I am right in the middle of God's calling for my life. My marriage is maturing and strengthening. It has simply been amazing to watch all four of our children go through their early years during this decade. I am serving in a mainline church and happier than ever. In my youthful arrogance I used to consider the mainlines as an aging dinosaur that is growing more and more extinct. Now, slightly embarrassed by my past ignorance, I am pursuing ordination within the United Methodist Church and I don't know if I ever would consider going back to a non-denomination or Baptist church. If God slams and opens doors I will follow His lead wherever.
The Bad - I have had two very painful experiences at the expense of churches I was formerly employed. But through it all, in hindsight, I definitely see the hand of God leading me exactly where He wanted me to go, for the exact amount of time I was needed, and then He put me in a new situation that fit the skills, talents and abilities that He has given me. I was never the type of person to hear the still, small voice of God telling me it was time to move on. He needed to slam a hard, steel door in front of me and open a new path in which He shoved me towards in both cases.
The Ugly - During the last transition from one church to the other I had two situations that pulled me back into BOTH churches that I had to leave. The most recent church had a father of two of my teens commit suicide. I immediately went to the home to minister to the family. I knew in that moment that regardless of whether or not a church recognizes you as a pastor, God's calling to you is permanent, with or without a church home. During that exact same transition, while mourning the lost of a youth group and church family I fell in love with and trying to step forward for the sake of my family, I had a former student from the LAST church that "let me go" who just committed suicide. The family requested that I do the funeral. Needless to say, I was not in a good mental state for this. But then, when it comes to the suicide of one of your teenagers, what youth pastor is mentally prepared for this? Through God's grace alone, I was able to help both families even though I was rejected by the church establishments that represented those families.
In the category of ugliness, I was also pulled into two depositions dealing with a lawsuit against the first church I worked for. I should also state that this is the church I grew up in. I had to answer questions I did not want to answer for the fear that it might hurt people I care deeply about. And then I had to endure a full day of the church lawyers discrediting me. It was not a fun day but I got through it. And as a result, I believe that my relationship with my brother-in-law (a.k.a. my lawyer) deepened through this experience.
And the final ugly thing of the past decade has been this war. It has been hard to watch some of my teens' lives become shattered as a result of the effects that this war has had on them and their generation. I don't like it one bit.
Top 15 Things I am Looking Forward to in the Next 10 (God willing):
1. My own kids coming through the youth ministry!
2. Possibly staying at a church long enough to see the fruit of students taking their faith to college, becoming married, and raising families of their own, of which maybe, just maybe, some of their kids will make it through the youth ministry before God takes me home!
3. Tattoos (no matter what my wife says)
5. A new Government without a Bush or Clinton! Please.
6. At the end of this decade, 3 kids in college! The only thing that scares me about this is how fast the past decade flew by and if that is any indication for the next 10 years.
7. Developing a relationship with an orphanage in Namibia, Africa
8. Finally affording some real family vacations!
9. Caring for my parents as they age gracefully.
10. Running a (half) marathon.
11. The Emergent Church rattling the cage of the establishment church and breathing new life and thought into the modern day church.
12. Christians transcending politics and believing in a God so much bigger than the Republican party.
13. The next Indiana Jones movie! And others????
14. The TV show "Lost" finally becoming found.
15. SpongeBob fading into obscurity.
It's a wonderful life! Really. With scars and all!