Last night was kind of a big deal to my family. I tried tweeting about it, but as this post will show, 280 characters could not begin to capture my thoughts and emotions. It is very difficult to put all of what I feel into words, but I want to try and share some of the thoughts I’ve been processing over the past few days…
Our pastor announced at the end of May that we would be hiring a new Student Minister and I would be transitioning into a new role as Central’s Associate Pastor of Missions & Operations. This was 100% mutual. As a matter of fact, January of 2019 God began stirring in our hearts that something was changing. Jenny and I didn’t know what that meant or what it was going to look like. We spent a lot of time praying through different things and trying to seek God’s will so we could do exactly what He wants us to do. I knew the worst thing for my family and our student ministry was for me to stay where I’m comfortable if it’s not where God wanted me. My pastor and I talked last spring and we made the announcement at the end of May… the transition was underway.
Last night was the “Farewell to Thomas & Jenny” night, even though I’m not leaving the church… and I still have one more week with students. It was a cool night. Cake, pizza, and coffee aside, it was surreal to try and put into words to a group of students what this student ministry has meant to Jenny and me over the past six years. I’ve done a pretty good job of suppressing all emotions regarding this transition for the last several months, mainly because I keep pushing and don’t let myself think about it. But yesterday morning it was glaring me in the face. It’s here.
Over the past fifteen years of ministry I have served on three church staffs: a rural church in East Texas where I was bi-vocational for three years, another rural church in East Texas for six years, and now a church in North Little Rock for the past (almost) six years. As a Student Minister, God has taught me different things and equipped me in different ways at each church. My first church is where I fell in love with student ministry! I was barely 20 years old, in school full time, and working two other jobs. I remember walking into my first Wednesday night absolutely petrified, and walking out absolutely in love. That church loved me, encouraged me, and pushed me. I made great friends and had older couples that were amazing examples to Jenny and me as we finished our engagement and began our marriage. I made mistakes and they were gracious. I preached my first sermons and they were more merciful than I probably deserved. This chapter of ministry taught me how to love student ministry.
Our second church was once again rural. It was a traditional, established church, in a one-stoplight town with a population of 1,100. Those six years solidified my calling to ministry. It shaped who I am as a minister and gave me a confidence I did not have before. Those students melted my heart and radically transformed my outlook on people, life, the church, and ministry. I can honestly say those students taught me how to love people. They taught me the importance of speaking out and standing beside the hurting. I was handed opportunities to love on a community and be a part of something that many student ministers would die for. This chapter of ministry taught me how to love students.
April of 2014 we moved to North Little Rock. I felt like Jed Clampett moving to Beverly Hills when I parked in front of our rent house with my 4×4 loaded to the top while pulling my dog pen strapped on my flat bottom boat. My first Sunday I remember sitting in the sanctuary and looking around thinking, “God, what are you doing? Why am I here? Are you sure about this?” The first year I would come home every week and tell Jenny, “I have no idea what I’m doing here.” I kept telling myself, “Do not screw this up.” God gave us opportunities to do things in ministry that I had only dreamed of. I have had the privilege of working alongside some phenomenal youth workers that I consider true friends. God has pushed me missionally with the trips I’ve been able to lead. He has pushed me pastorally with the opportunities to teach, preach, and lead in ways I never thought would happen. This church has loved on us like an authentic family. This chapter of ministry has taught me how to love the church deeply.
For fifteen years I’ve been a student minister. That was how I defined myself – father for 9 years, husband for almost 14, but student minister for 15. I quit identifying myself by my childhood or high school years a long time ago. I don’t cling to an alma mater, or a stereotype, or a past… I unapologetically, proudly, and passionately define myself as a Student Minister… For one more week.
This will probably sound melodramatic, so mock me if you want, but I don’t feel like God is starting a new chapter in our life. He’s starting a new volume in The Chronicles of Thomas’ Life. My family has sat in the youth section during “big church” for 15 years. My kids have ran to the youth room after church every Wednesday night since they were born to tell me bye before they go home. We’ve planned our summers around 18 youth camps (two for a couple years) and many youth mission trips.
Last night, Jenny gave me the coolest present ever: A stack of letters from students over the past 15 years. Some still in high school, others in college, others in their thirties with kids of their own. It was a sweet reminder of what God has done, and a sweet reminder of His faithfulness in the midst of our inabilities. This reminder was absolutely priceless.
What’s next? I get to step into a new role where I know God is going to push me out of my comfort zone. I am going to be challenged, and I hope I will grow in ministry. I get to flesh out mission strategies, plan mission trips, disciple folks, teach adults (still scares me a good bit), and grow in my many areas of weaknesses. I am really looking forward to it.
Fifteen years. I still don’t know why God chose me. But that’s kind of the point of the Gospel, isn’t it? We aren’t adequate. We aren’t worthy. We aren’t good enough. BUT GOD chooses each one of us for a relationship. It is still mind boggling. What is God wanting to do through you that you don’t feel good enough for? Quit making excuses and trying to find reasons to say no. You don’t have any excuses ifyou have the Holy Spirit. What He calls you to, He will equip you to do.
If you feel so inclined, pray for Central’s Student Ministry, for our new student minister, and for his awesome family. Transitions are always awkward, but I think God is getting set to do some amazing things in Central’s Student Ministry!
Next week, my final message to my students is a recap of what I’ve learned in 15 years of working with students. If you’ve finished reading this post, consider coming back next week for the next one.
Looking ahead to what’s to come as my student ministry time approaches the ministerial Thanos Snap.