Wednesday, May 27, 2015

So Now What?

When we moved to Kissimmee in 1994, Marilyn and I were away from family for the and friends for really the first time as a couple. We were starting over in many ways, and after putting boxes and furniture in the house it was time to get serious about what to do first in my new role as Director of Youth Ministries at FUMC-K. I had received letters from some of the youth and the adult volunteers welcoming me and indicating some of their hopes and expectations of me. These letters were written at youth group on March 20, 1994- about one month before my arrival. Most of these letters were encouraging and sounded as if the students were excited to have a new youth pastor on the way,  Others...well they certainly made me think. Here are a few direct quotes (yes I still have the letters; go ahead and laugh!) from the kid's letters. Names have been withheld to save any embarrassment (but those of you from FUMC-K are welcome to guess!).
  • "We look forward to your coming with much anxiety...I am not sure what changes you have planned."
  • "My favorite hobby is to start fires.  I hate cats and every time I see one I have no choice but to kill the animal.  I hope you are not a bug collector."
  • "I need to talk to you about me the day you get here April 14th."
  • "Brace yourself.  HA HA don't know what you are jumping into."  (This letter included a sketch of a man jumping off of a diving board into an empty swimming pool-  such encouragement!)
  • "Everyone here is excited you are coming.  I myself am not over enthusiastic, but I am glad someone is coming..."
If the youth letters left me feeling a bit nervous about getting started, the letters from the adults made it clear that the task was daunting and the expectations were high. Those thoughts were made even clearer by a survey I had sent to volunteers who were working with the group in advance of my coming. I had asked five questions of them. I wanted to know the strengths of the group;  the weaknesses; the primary needs, or where I needed to start; how they saw themselves fitting in; and finally, what had summer programs been like in the past. Over and over again I read that the strength was the closeness and commitment of the students who were involved, except for the few who found that closeness was translating into cliques. But now there were many less than had been there just a few years before, and people found that depressing. Having had three leaders in two years, with me being number four, had left everyone a bit staggered. The words that kept coming up were leadership and stability. The good news was I would have lots of help; one writer told me that some Sunday evenings there were more adults than students at youth group. The bad news was that there were more adults...

My normal approach would have been to work my way in slowly, seeing what was working and what needed to be changed. After reading the letters and surveys and praying about it, I knew I needed to come in with the cannons firing. This was a ministry anchored in the past;  both the glorious past of huge crowds and strong leadership, and the more recent past of failure and abandonment. It was time to go forward and to do it with great energy. Fortunately, summer was only 6 weeks away, and I knew I could show them leadership and energy like they had seldom seen before. The survey responses indicated that summers had been pretty basic in years past, with a mission trip and what they called "Breakaways" to lake homes or houses with pools on Sunday afternoons. At least five of the surveys stated that "anything I planned would be OK." I had to laugh. They had no idea who they were dealing with...YET!  They were hoping for a slice of good pizza. That summer they would get the entire pie! Sometimes first steps need to be baby steps- and sometimes you just have go whole hog! Youth Ministry was never dull. Never!

Because of Jesus,

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