“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:6
“Some kids will never hear your voice, and that’s ok.” I remember fighting against the truth of those words even as they were coming from the lips of my faithful friend. I was wounded. I needed to hear those words, I did not want to hear them, but I certainly needed to hear those words.
Some context… I had recently taken the reigns of the youth ministry at our local church. The Lord had graciously placed me in a position to follow in the footsteps of a loving, passionate, bear of a man, who had also become my friend. He held the position at our church for nearly ten years (a lifetime in youth ministry and approximately nine years longer than I’d even been a Christian…but that’s a story for another day!). The ministry was thriving at the time, but the call for my friend to move and plant a church was clear, as was – what our leadership confirmed to be – the Lord’s call on my life to lead, and eventually Pastor, the students. So a plan was devised, and prayed over, through, and around. As everything unfolded, I felt ready.
Eventually the announcement was made to the congregation that a transition in the youth ministry was to occur. As part of the plan, I began to speak more and have an increased presence in the ministry. This took place for six months, all through a pleasant spring of fellowships, graduations, and through a grace-filled summer of camps, road trips, and service during which the Youth served as the hands and feet to set-up the new church plant and send their old Pastor away. It’s hard to imagine a transition happening in a sweeter way; it was wonderful. The kids and parents seemed to be on board.
And then it hit.
Some months passed, a warm Utah summer turned into a cold desert winter. My Pastor friend was away, the ministry was under my watch, and I found myself on a Sunday morning standing in front of a sparse group of kids, surrounded by a sea of empty seats once occupied by their peers. I didn’t understand, and painful questions followed. What was happening? What was I doing wrong? Is God “in this”?
Barely hanging on at that point, I gathered the kids for a road trip to a missions conference. The emcee for the weekend was a long-time youth minister and friend of our fellowship who bubbled with positivity and enthusiasm. Fortunately for me at that time, he also had the ability to hear and understand a questioning soul battling with adversity. What began as a simple inquiry about the ministry quickly went deep. He invited, I unloaded, letting loose about “the struggle of empty seats.”
Then, those words from that faithful friend: “Some kids will never hear your voice, and that’s ok.”
What I came to find in that moment, and in subsequent moments of wrestling, confessing, and repenting is that I wanted the kids to LIKE me, to LOVE me, and to HEAR me. Yes, I was preaching and teaching God’s Word, and wanted them to know the voice of the Lord, but my focus was on the people who were no longer around to hear it, and not on those who were seated in front of me desiring to hear of God’s grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
I was operating from a place of fear; that I would be seen as a failure. But in that fear I was missing God’s blessing. I was missing out on the opportunity to love and lead the kids who were in front of me. And I was forgetting that the small size of the group before me was, in some unknowable way, God’s sovereign grace. God had provided a fresh start for all of us. There I was, just like Jacob, wrestling with God and asking Him to bless me, all the while missing the fact that God was present and active. He was building the ministry in a way that glorified Himself!
I wish I could say, after this realization, that I never lose focus of God’s will and His ways; those ways that are “higher than my ways” (Isa. 55:9). But that is not the case, and because of it I thank God again for my faithful friends.
Fast forward from that bout to an exchange that took place about a month ago. I found myself once again engaged in conversation with a friend, this time on the heels of a challenging… no, a heart-wrenchingly painful year of life and ministry. Struggles abounded in the leadership within our church, my wife and I simply could not get along, sin ran rampant among the students, and the list could go on. I entered the conversation with my friend feeling pretty justified in my morose and indignant state, yet at the same time I sensed the pull of the Spirit to seek counsel. So I did, but first, I unloaded. “My marriage… my co-laborers… these students… these parents… all of it a train wreck that only keeps getting worse!” Then a pause, and with all the care and lovingkindness only a brother in Christ can offer, a question: “Where is your heart?”
Pierced. Another wound. The answer was clear. Once again, I was missing the bigger picture of God’s blessing on HIS ministry. I had lost focus, but God used my friend to help me gain clarity once again. I had missed that the very reason for the present ministry messiness was that God had grown it, and with any kind of growth there are growing pains. There is pruning and rooting out of sin and blindness, a process that in this case God mercifully chose to include the Pastor.
Thank the Lord for our faithful friends, and seek counsel from them often, even if it hurts. That God would continue to use our brothers and sisters in Christ to sharpen us, grow us, and help us see the truth of His ways as told in His Word.