When I graduated college a year and a half ago I was excited about where my life was heading. I had a diploma, a new marriage, and was about to start a full time youth ministry job at the church I had been interning at for the last year and a half of college. Many dreams were coming true all at once. Although we made financial sacrifices to be at this church, I was receiving some of the biggest paychecks in my 22 years of life and thought for sure we would make it work. Fast forward to now: I am still excited about what God is doing in my life, though it’s more about His presence than hitting life milestones. The road has been bumpy. Less than a year into my first youth ministry gig I was told I wasn’t what the church wanted for their youth ministry. It was a blow to my ego, my calling, my vocation, and my young family. My wife and I felt tossed aside by a church that we had devoted ourselves to for 3 years, the church we were married at, the church we called “home.” I’ve wrestled with a lot of things in the months since then, yet had incredible confidence in who God is and that He wasn’t done with us. These are some things I’ve learned as I’ve dealt with what happened and prepared for what’s next.
1. God’s plans are bigger than my dreams and nightmares. I knew I wanted to do youth ministry since I was a young teenager. I never had specific dreams of what that meant, but I imagined it looking like the church environments I knew. I didn’t picture California (being from the Midwest), the leaders and students I would work with, or the mentors I would have, but all of these things turned out better than I could have expected at my first position. I never imagined losing my first position so soon or that the circumstances of it would be so difficult- it was a lot more of nightmare than a dream- but I have seen God do amazing things through this experience that I never expected. I am thankful for the things God has done in my life beyond my dreams and in my nightmares.
2. The people in my life are “better than I deserve”. I steal this from a phrase Dave Ramsey says, but it characterizes the humility I feel towards all of the people who have supported me. I can’t say enough about how much my wife has meant to me, how she has loved me and challenged me to move forward in faith. We have been supported greatly by our families and the family of God. Friends and mentors have been there to walk with us. I know this time would have been much more devastating without these people God put in our lives.
3. Purposeful ministry has to be planned. I have learned a ton about ministry in the last few months from a lot of people and books. My head is filled with ideas that make me anxious to get back to youth ministry and let them out. From choosing and empowering leaders strategically to accomplishing all that the church is meant to be, it takes intentional work from the person in charge. Some aspects of ministry I could do with little thought, but valuable ministry comes from doing things on purpose with God honoring vision, leaders, and programs.
4. My life is filled with God’s grace. I think I have seen God’s hand in my life more in my recent experiences than any other time. These manifestations of God’s grace remind me how thankful I am to be walking through life following Him. The encouraging conversations with others, more part time jobs than I ever thought I could balance (FIVE at one point), sunrises driving at early hours to these jobs, better gas mileage than average, my wife getting a job on the last day of my severance, frozen pizza sales, and new experiences have all shown me God’s grace and encouraged me to keep walking forward with Him. I am thankful for the simple, complex, meaningful, and bizarre miracles of my daily life.
Losing my job was difficult, scary, and confusing. Walking through all of this with God has given me great peace throughout it. My wife and I have seen how blessed we are, and often say to each other that we love our life, even through this difficult time. God has provided for our marriage, our finances, and faith beyond what we could have expected — and this utter dependence on Him has humbled us as a couple. He has blessed us with incredible people to support us. He has grown me as a learner and taught me countless things. Best of all He has been present. I still don’t know when I will be back in youth ministry or even what the next few months look like, but I am excited for them and to see where God takes this adventure.
Mike Shaffer is an intern in social media at Saddleback Church and praying about his future in youth ministry. If you want to get in contact with him, here’s his email address. We had coffee this week and I asked him to write this post after hearing his story – proud of him and excited to see what God has next!