I remember telling my dad that I didn’t want to go through the ordination process.
Since I loved youth ministry and I wanted to do youth ministry until the day I retire, I figured I didn’t need to go through ordination to do that. And of course, the other part of the reason was that I just didn’t want to go through all that crap stuff.
But it’s a good thing I started the process back then.
I was serious about doing youth ministry forever, though. I really thought that youth ministry was the be all, end all of my ministerial career. I thought I’d be doing youth ministry well into my 60’s.
Maybe that’s why people say things like, “Want to make God laugh? Tell God your future plans.”
There came a point in time when I realized, while I loved youth and youth ministry, there’s got to be more to me than just the “youth guy.” There’s more to life, faith, and ministry than this one facet that I have been immersed in for the past few years. And I wanted to explore that.
That coincided with me being commissioned as a provisional elder. Which meant, I was going to appointed somewhere by the Cabinet. Which I thought meant, “I can try something outside of youth ministry.” Only, the Cabinet sent me to an Anglo church to be their associate pastor with emphasis on youth ministry.
This would be first time, in my life, where I would not be part of a Korean church — and with that came “culture shock” and a lot of adjusting and a lot of things that I had to get used to.
Like side comments that were meant to encourage me, but were a bit offensive like, “I was so worried about your English, but after hearing you preach, I have to say: you speak English very, very well!”
But the biggest culture shock — the hardest transition was the youth ministry aspect.
The way we Koreans did youth ministry and the way the average Anglo UM churches do ministry are as different as night and day. And, for the life of me, I could not figure out how to meet the kids in some form of middle ground.
I tried. I felt like I came up short. I got frustrated. Tried new things. Reread and read all sorts of books on youth ministry. But, nothing was working. At the end of the day, I had to assume the problem was me. I just could not adapt to what the kids were used to. Nor could I have them meet me half way from what I as accustomed to. Also, a huge part of me was worried that if I were to adapt completely to how the anglo churches in the Cal-Pac did youth ministry, I would lose a big part of my identity as a pastor, as a Christian, and as a person.
But I loved those kids. They were great. They were fun. We had a great time hanging out. But, at that time, I felt that I was called to do more than just hang out and have fun. I was getting tired of silly and messy games. I was getting tired of lock-ins. Surely, there was more to my calling than playing a game of Hide and Seek at 3 in the morning in pitch black darkness even though it was pretty epic.
Then I got a call from a DS saying that I was moving. Which meant a new church. Which meant a new opportunity; a new job. Which I thought meant, “I can try something out of youth ministry.” Only, the Cabinet sent me to another Anglo church as the associate pastor with heavy emphasis on youth.
Apparently, God must’ve thought I had unfinished business with youth ministry when I thought I was done. But I figured, there must be a reason for this appointment. And I tried to make the best of it. I tried to learn from the mistakes from the previous appointment. I had learned through District and Conference gatherings that our conference, when it comes to youth, emphasized the importance of relationships with one another.
You see, in the Korean context, the emphasis is on the youth’s relationship with God. That’s why the retreats are intense. That’s why there are weekly prayer meetings. That’s why on Friday nights, instead of fellowship, the focus is on bible study and worship.
That insight helped a little.
And I loved that church. I loved the staff. I loved the kids. They were great. But something deep within me nagged at me — because I (still) wasn’t making the connections I was accustomed to making in youth ministry.
Though it was hard, I had to admit that I wasn’t the best fit for this church, when it came to youth ministry. Or maybe, I just wasn’t the best fit for any youth ministry.
It was a complete detour from just few years earlier, when I was telling my dad I was going to do youth ministry for the rest of my life.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am tremendously grateful for both experiences and both churches. They embraced me. They loved me. They were patient with me as I was trying to figure things out.
But, I don’t think I ever figured things out. I don’t think I was as “successful” as I hoped to be (or desired to be) in both settings.
And I’m thankful that both churches are doing well today — that I didn’t mess up so bad as to cripple them or set them back decades. I just wish I could’ve done… better… more.
When I was in Hawaii last week, I got a chance to preach for the youth at my old church. Most of the kids I worked with were now in college. That means this was a whole new batch of kids that I didn’t know. I thought I had prepared a good sermon for the youth ministry.
When I got up to preach, I saw all these young sets of eyes staring at me.
As I met their gaze, I said to myself, “Uh oh. This sermon might not be the best in this context.”
And it wasn’t. The college kids who helped with youth ministry understood the message (at least that’s what they told me). But, I think for most of the youth kids, I spoke over their heads using “Punahou” words as the student formerly known as Intern Dae shared. Meaning, I used words that the kids would never use on a daily basis. And not just because they’re Hawaii kids…
It’s funny how sure and solid we think our plans for our future may be. 8 years ago, I would’ve never imagined feeling like this towards youth ministry. 8 years ago, I wouldn’t have pictured myself being a pastor to adults, let alone, serving an Anglo church.
But that’s the thing. God’s in control, not me. And life is much, much easier when I accept that instead of trying to fight with God and hold tightly to future plans that may not work out the best for me. Life is easier when we trust in God and God’s plans. For God’s plans are for peace, not disaster, to give us a future filled with hope.
So may we trust in The Lord with all our heart, not relying solely on our intelligence or our own abilities to get by.
May we know him in all our paths, for God will keep our ways straight!