It is 2017 everyone! As we enter our fourth year of YMC we are continuing to have yearly themes. This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
“The Kid Who Would(n’t) Be A Minister”
Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Student and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.
I grew up in church. I mean that literally. My Granddad has been a Music Minister for over sixty years, and until middle school I lived with my grandparents, meaning my pre- and post-school activity for many years was acting as the office nuisance helper since I was ‘about yea high’. I was what we came to know as “open door” church folk – if the doors were open I was probably there. This continued through high school; in college I gravitated to working with students as an ‘adult’, chaperone, or occasional teacher when I was in town, and found myself on staff at various camps every single summer.
All things considered, it was probably natural for people to assume that I would wind up following those pastoral footsteps. My response was along the ‘you know what happens when we assume’ variety. Regardless, I was asked disturbingly often, “You’re going into the ministry, right?” No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t minister material. Yeah I grew up in church, and I got to know several ministers really well. That wasn’t me. Over time I got pretty good at that particular conversation, and developed an almost canned response: I’d splutter out a laugh, we’d have a good laugh together, and I’d say, “Good one!” or “Ha, please!” Because they obviously didn’t know me very well, I wasn’t minister material. I mean I know ‘were all ministers’, but come on.
I mean for real. I had a plan. Ok, I had a trajectory. Sure, I’d definitely be involved in a church wherever I ended up because it was part of me, that and I had no hope of escaping it, but I was no minister. I didn’t project an air of holiness, I never had it all together, I’ve never been the pastoral type. If anything I’d be down in the trenches, getting dirty, working with people, creating relationships and changing the world a little bit at a time. Not sitting in a church, being… minister-y.
Halfway through a Master’s program in Environmental Management (read conservation and ecosystem science stuff), I was, of course, chaperoning a youth retreat somewhere in Kentucky, minding my own business and having a grand ol’ time. As I sat in the gymatorium waiting on worship to begin, it hit me. There was no booming voice, the heavens were not rent asunder, I wasn’t temporarily blinded – I was shocked though. Mostly because it wasn’t right, it couldn’t be, I had just gotten a little too much Jesus and needed to walk it off. I talked with the minister there (my former youth minister), I called my mom, I called my best friend, I called Hugh. I was the only one surprised. But still, no way, I wasn’t minister material.
I met with my pastor at the time and we developed a brilliant plan: begin visiting various seminaries to prove that my gut was correct and everyone else (including the Holy Spirit, apparently) wrong. Thus crossing all that mess off the list for good. I powered through the first couple of visits, confident in my assertion that I would not turn out to be a minister.
Enter the final visit. As usual, I was (I thought) under-dressed, but I had a strange sense of ease, this was new. What was happening!? But wasn’t this a Christian University? I’d dealt with those before, the other shoe would drop. I met staff and students wearing t-shirts. And shorts. Not suits. What kind of place was this!? I was in a group with several folks from crazy different backgrounds, from all over the world, different theologies – all folks who attended classes together. I, a guest, was asked what I thought rather than being told. It was like everyone just wanted to help others be more like Christ, and understood that it could look really different (whaaaat) depending on the context! I went to class and we talked about the world, what ‘missions’ means, about people being changed by people being changed… I… OH, NO! I loved it. I wanted more. These were my people! I was home.
Turns out I’m not minister material; I’m just a minister. It may have taken me a little longer than most to come to terms with it, but acknowledging and leaning into this whole calling thing is more important than how long it took to sink in. I fought tooth and nail to avoid it, but as one professor told us my very first semester, “You don’t become a minister because you want to, you become a minister because you can’t do anything else.” I know, I tried. Sure, a day may come when it’s no longer for me, but until then I’ll be down in the trenches, getting dirty, working with people, fostering relationships, changing the world a little bit at a time, doing life and calling others into the way of Jesus as part of a church, because I’m a minister.