Friday, April 9, 2010

Thinking...About Thinking

In the autumn of 1993 I started thinking.  Some of you may laugh and ask if this was the very first time I had undertaken the task.  Those who know me best (Marilyn) know that in reality I over think most everything.  My mind is constantly in motion, and unfortunately not always considering things I should be thinking about.  But following the huge success of that summer's Disney trip, I had begun thinking that perhaps it was time for me to leave Springfield Friends Meeting.  The average length of tenure for a youth minister in those days was about 14 months.  I was entering my eighth year at Springfield.  My thinking was serious and I began to consider my options.

Why?  I had flirted with leaving a couple of times in the previous year, but nothing had gotten serious enough that I ever had to accept or refuse a job offer.  But I had thought about it.  There were four main reasons that I began to think that the time was coming. 
  1. I had dreams and goals that I wanted to accomplish as a youth pastor, and it was becoming clearer to me that most of those would not happen if I continued working among Quakers.  The denomination was so small and so mysterious to non-Quakers that it was difficult to see much future growth coming.  We had been drawing families to church through our TNT program, watching as their kids became involved with us and the parents went to other churches. Even in our community, where Quakers had been present for over 200 years, some viewed us as a strange, cult-like faith.  The denomination was also very divided theologically, and I was very weary of all the infighting.  And I could see absolutely no situation among Friends that was a step up from Springfield- I already had the best Quaker youth ministry job in the country. 
  2. Perhaps I had accomplished all there was for me to accomplish at Springfield.  We had done some wonderful things together, and the just finished trip was incredible.  I just wasn't sure if I was the person to continue leading them into the future- maybe the kids needed a change too.  Plus, the imminent retirement of long-time senior pastor Max Rees was going to make major changes in the Meeting.  I wasn't sure what part God was calling me to play in that transition. 
  3. I hate to admit it, but if I am being honest then I have to say that money was an issue as well.  I was not being compensated at anywhere near the level of my peers in other denominations, but we could live with that.  What frustrated me was that our budget for student ministry was only $800 per year.  To do the ministry we were doing, to reach out into the community and offer programs and events that would help us change lives, we needed far more.  Springfield just could not afford more.  They supported the youth in every other way imaginable, but money was just tight.  Marilyn and I were spending a good deal of our income on the youth.  We did it because we wanted to, but should not have to be that way.
  4. One of the tests I have always tried to apply to a church that I work for or one that offers me a position is this:  If I didn't work at the church, would I want to attend it?  That question was becoming harder for me to answer about Springfield.  I loved (and still love; even 16 years later we consider it home) the Meeting, but some of my worship preferences were changing, and I knew Springfield was not going to change as quickly as I would like.  Contemporary music was not coming to worship anytime soon.  The use of drama and video in worship was still a long way off.  Even something as seemingly simple as changing the order of worship from one week to the next was a struggle.  I was reasonably certain that there were not many people in the congregation, even many of our dear friends, who felt the way Marilyn and I did.  It was something we had to think about.
So with all of those reasons to think about leaving, why was it such a tough decision to start looking for a new ministry?  First and foremost, I loved the people I worked with.  I loved Max and our secretary Millie.  I loved the congregation.  I loved the students in our ministry and could not imagine leaving them.  And most importantly, I had not felt a clear calling from God on what to do next.  I was still just thinking.  The other reason I was hesitant was something my Grandfather Jones had taught me many years before.  He always said, "Don't mess with happy."  The late great Jim Valvano often said the same thing.  Marilyn and I loved where we were, and the people there loved us.  We were very happy.  In order to move on from Springfield, we would have to mess with happy.  I knew it was something that would require much prayer, and maybe even a "burning bush" from God to make it all clear to me.  The "bush" would come a little later.  For the time being, it was all just thinking...

Because of Jesus,

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