Within Church ministry, I think that there seems to be a perception that everyone loves their job all of the time; they settled immediately, they are always inspired and know what they’re doing, and are on fire for what they do. I look at Youth Leaders around me who all seem to know what they’re doing, until you sit down with them and hear that they are in part making it up as they go along. I go to conferences and weekends away, and the main speaker will stand up on stage, introduce themselves, tell the crowd what they do for a living, and it’s almost always followed by, “and I love it” or “and I have a passion for ___”. I don’t for one minute they doubt that they love or have passion for what they do, or think they should stand up and say, “my name is ____, I work for ____ and I cannot wait until my contract is up so I can leave”. However, I think it creates an idea that these big leaders have it all together and always love their job, when I’m sure that they have times of struggle too.
I started my new job as a Student Youth Worker in July, and I only now feel like I’m completely settled. That’s six months later. Perhaps this is normal, but I spent these six months thinking it wasn’t because people in ministry generally don’t openly share the rocky times they have. That’s why I want to share this blog post; firstly to share this big thing that’s been going on with me recently, but also to become more vulnerable, honest and authentic, and to change this perception that everyone in ministry has a smooth road.
I think I struggled in settling so much because I was experiencing so many differences as well as ups and downs in my personal life, and I just couldn’t fix anything. Friends that cheered me on through this asked what they could do to help, and my reply was always “nothing”. I just had to 'wait it out'. I knew I just had to wait it out because I knew this is where God wants me, so this is where I’ll stay.
Everyone at the Church was so lovely in welcoming me. Everyone seemed so excited to have a new youth worker and wanted to know when my university course was starting, if I’ve always lived in the area and generally how I’m doing. And six months on, everyone is just as kind; asking how the youth groups are going, asking if I need anything, asking how university is going. So there wasn’t a problem within the Church that could be instantly fixed with a meeting or telling someone to be kinder or not gossip or communicate better - none of these were problems I was facing. Nobody at the Church I work in should read this and think, “I could have done something more”. This isn’t a blog post to point fingers, since there’s nothing to point fingers at. Everyone did their best and more, and for that I’m truly grateful.
I had got used to going to Church and it being like attending a big Christian conference every week; loud, coloured lights, base, a mainly millennial congregation of people who raise their hands during worship songs I loved. I moved from that to a Church that was the opposite in many ways. It just didn’t feel like home. I missed the Church I went to, I missed the young people I worked with and I missed my previous line manager line-managing me.
The more I thought about how I still wasn’t settled, and I was just ‘fine’ rather than ‘happy’, the worse it felt. At one point it became an achievement if I hadn’t cried at work that day. But nobody could fix anything for me, and that’s what made it worse. Nobody could make it any better. Nobody was doing anything wrong.
I’m now 100% settled, and I find myself telling anyone who will listen this joyful update. So what helped me settled, how did the change come about?…
I’m really thankful for the ‘cheerleaders’ I had over these months.
In late September I met up with two youth leaders/friends/influences separately. I expected the first friend to affirm me and say things like, “I know that you can do this, it’s okay, I love you”. She didn’t. Instead she told me that I’ve got to make a decision about what I do soon and that I “can’t be a Jonah and just run away”. It sounds harsh, but it was the reality I needed to hear.
I’m the kind of person to really remember words people say over me; good and bad. However, I don’t remember a thing the second friend told me. Not a word. I don’t think this makes it any less significant or helpful at the time because what I do remember is feeling peace, companionship and support, and I think that’s more important than the words that were shared. The continued support from these two people helped; to know that I had people who were for me, who would listen and would practically help me if they could really made the load lighter.
I also met with a colleague, and I think that was the start of change. Although I had planned to, I never actually said how low I was feeling and how unsettled I was, instead we just chatted over lunch and got to know each other. I was honest about some of the things I was struggling with (like differences in churches and missing the old) but we never really dug deep into that. Without even knowing it, she’s been my biggest cheerleader; really looking after me in every way. That motherly support has given me a sense of belonging.
Uni was a great cheerleader too. I had had a traumatic driving experience (a story for another day) and I came into uni the following day, already ready to give up. I went to my tutor’s office and had a cry, told her how unsettled I was and there and then she pencilled in a date to come and visit me and my line manager the following week. The fact that she/the university would travel the 166 mile round trip just for a short meeting really blew me away.
I mentioned that a colleague-turned-friend gave me a sense of belonging. Similarly, as did the Christmas period.
Over Christmas, someone asked me what I’m doing after my three years at uni/in my current job, and before I had time to answer, someone else chipped in and said, “she’s staying here!” That’s not the first time I’ve heard this. Although there’s an element of humour in the various comments, this time I actually thought, “perhaps, if there was an opportunity, I will stay here - it would be pretty cool to see my youngest youth through, just as my youth leader did, were the opportunity to arise". There was a change in perception.
Over Christmas, I dressed up as a mouse to play the part of Maud, a narrator in our Nativity - as you do. I don’t like participating in role plays or dramas, and I especially don’t like doing it whilst in a costume on stage. However, this was a highlight of Term 1. I enjoyed it so much and wasn’t at all scared or self-conscious. Participating like this really made me feel part of something. I took part because it was somewhat my job to be involved as the youth worker, but also because I’m part of the Church family, and the Church family gets involved in these things.
By far the biggest influence on this change was God. Right from the beginning I knew that this is where I should be. I don’t understand why I struggled so much, but I find rest in knowing that God was in it all, and He knew what He was doing; He always does. He doesn’t lead us into deep waters to leave us to drown, but He goes with us in deep waters to teach us something about Him, to show us His power, to give us opportunity to step out the boat.
Just take when Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4:35-41, or when Jesus calls Peter to walk on water in Matthew 14:22-33, or look to Isaiah 43:1-4 that tells us because “you are precious and honoured in my sight and because I love you”, because I am the Lord your God”, because “I created you and formed you” and because “I have called you by name”, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned”.
I’m sure that in a couple of months, maybe years, I’ll look back and totally understand why I struggled. But for now, I’m happy in this warm feeling of being settled.