When I was in junior high, I wasn’t exactly what you would call ‘one of the cool kids’. I was pretty outgoing and easy to get along with. But no amount of friendliness could compensate for the nerdy glasses, frizzy hair, acne and all around lack of fashion sense I had. Those years are what I often refer to as my awkward years, something that I am a firm believer everyone should have at least one of at some point during his or her childhood. In my opinion, it makes you a nicer person. I have no scientific research to back up this theory, but I did survive high school and that counts for something.
But back to my awkward years…
I managed to not only survive but also enjoy them, and not because some kind and popular soul gave me a ‘She’s All That’ makeover, and I suddenly became model material. Nope, sadly, I had to figure out how to tame my hair, put on makeup and wear clothes that weren’t two sizes too big for me on my own. And unfortunately, that did not happen until my junior year of high school.
I survived my awkward years because of church. For starters, youth ministry was the melting pot of all things awkward. Between the homeschoolers, the Royal Rangers, the DC Talk wannabes, the girls who insisted they were dating Jesus, the guys who insisted they kissed dating goodbye, and the students raised on Carmen and TBN… well, let’s just say my cool factor was a lot higher around this crew. (No offense if you identified with any of the above descriptions. My first concert was a Carmen concert. You are my people. I get you.)
Church was more than just a place for me to fit in though. It was a place I could be a part of something that mattered.
Most days of the week, I would volunteer my afternoons as a youth intern. I was the youngest intern by far, with, let’s be real, not great administrative skills. My youth pastor was unsure of what to do with me, but I was eager to serve. He basically designated me to be the youth janitor, and more often than not I would spend my afternoons wiping down chairs, cleaning windows, dusting the stage, scrubbing toilets, and vacuuming the youth worship room.
I didn’t mind. Jesus had saved my life; He had rescued me from sin and death and had given me a new life filled with love and meaning. I figured the least I could do in return was some housekeeping for Him.
I have a confession to make though. Every now and again, when everyone in the youth offices had gone to lunch and I was all alone I would grab my Bible, hop up on the stage and preach my guts out. Except in my mind it wasn’t to an empty room, it was an entire stadium of people hanging on my every word. By the time the altar call came around, I would imagine thousands and thousands of people in that stadium would be rushing to the front of the stage to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
I don’t even know what inspired me to do this. I was in an empty youth room fantasizing about preaching Jesus to stadiums full of people. It was ridiculous, and I knew that if anyone walked in on me, I would never be able to live it down amongst the other youth interns. Besides, it’s not like anyone had ever singled me out as being the next Joyce Meyer. I didn’t even own a single item of clothing that sparkled, and I was sure that meant I was not destined for the Joyce mantle. Other than Mama Joyce, I had never seen a female preacher. I heard rumors of a fiery, fast-talking woman named Christine who preached to stadiums of young people in Australia. Some days, I wished I lived in Australia, just so I could see it for myself. But I didn’t live in the super progressive land down under where women pastors and preachers were part of the equation. I lived in ‘Murica where female preachers were about as common as a unicorn in Central Park. For all I knew, they just didn’t exist.
It didn’t stop me from dreaming, though. Cleaning and dreaming– that’s what I did best. Those two words pretty much sum up my entire youth intern experience.
I have another confession to make. Yes, I was dreaming, but there was something off with my dream. And despite what some critics say, that something was not my gender. It was the focus. In my dream of preaching the Gospel, I was front and center. I was in the spotlight and reveling in every moment of it. What was most exciting in my dream was how I felt when people were riveted by my performance, when they clapped and cheered and responded to my impassioned words. In my ministry-fantasy, people got saved, healed, raised from the dead because of me. I was unaware of it at that time, but in my dreams for ministry, Jesus was playing second fiddle to my own ego and ambitions.
Fast forward twenty years, and, man, has God been good to me! I pinch myself every day, overwhelmed that in so many ways, the dream deposited in me as a 12-year-old is no longer just a dream but an adventure I am daily living out. I have the honor and privilege of serving and leading within the Church. I am both a pastor and a preacher, and to be honest, I am blown away and shocked that people show up to hear me talk about Jesus every single time I minister. Heaven has been extravagant in its generosity to me!
I am also thankful for the ways the dream has not come to pass the way I imagined. These days I am far less interested in how I feel and look and how the crowd responds to me and far more interested in walking in obedience to God’s will.
That reversal was years in the making.
And to be honest, I know I am still just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding how to live, love and lead like Jesus. Over the past decade and a half, the Holy Spirit has been deconstructing my ego and in it’s place constructing the character of Christ. That sounds quite lovely on paper. The outcome may be lovely, but the process is not. It’s uncomfortable, it’s messy, and it’s painful.
And yet, however painful the process has been and will continue to be, I see the purpose in the process. Not only has God been faithful to bring the dreams of a 12-year-old zealous girl’s imagination to pass, He has been equally faithful to continually develop that girl into a godly (far from perfect, but godly) woman with the character and conviction for the fulfillment of those dreams. For this I am grateful.
The process has taught me many things, and continues to do so. And for the fun of it, I thought I might share with the class a few of those things. My prayer is that you too would discover the purpose in your process and see how God is preparing you for what He has already prepared for you…
To Those of Us In-Process:
Your time is way too valuable to be wasted on concerns about positions and popularity. Care about character. Desire to be like Jesus more than your desire to be admired or successful. Be more invested in people for their benefit and not your own. People are not a necessary component to help you or your business or your ministries achieve its goals; they are the goal. Don’t worry so much about who knows your name and applauds your efforts. Just care about people knowing Jesus and how very much He loves them. Be interested in developing your skills as a servant more than your skills as a leader because you actually become a better leader when you focus on becoming a better servant.
Have the guts to die to self. Daily take up your cross and follow Jesus. Dying to self doesn’t exactly sound pleasant; in fact, it sounds downright excruciating. And at times, it is. Choosing humility over pride, self-control over impatience, contentment over envy, kindness over selfishness can be painful. There’s no escaping that. But when we follow Jesus, we have to remember that death is never the end of the story. It’s only the beginning. When we die to our own sinful nature, we don’t die just for the sake of dying. We serve the Living God who is always more interested in life then death. If He asks us to die it is for the purpose of living. When we die to self, it’s so we can really live!
Ministry (whatever that looks like for you) was meant to be fulfilling and rewarding. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t easy. Ministry is a lot of things, but it is never easy. The great stuff in life is. It’s not supposed to be easy, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Things get simple when we are no longer driven by what people think of us or how outcomes make us look or what opportunities are coming our way. As I look back over the years, I now realize just how much time in my thinking I have wasted on things so trivial! It’s amazing how much extra space you can find in your soul for hearing God’s voice and being fully present for the people around you when you stop caring about stupid stuff.
Let’s be real, we all have within us the human desire to be admired and applauded by the masses. In fact, even well intended Christian voices encourage us to pursue influence in order to fulfill God’s call for our lives. There will be no shortage of conferences to attend and podcasts to listen to and books to read on the subject. And here’s my honest and sometimes not-so-popular-take on the whole thing: it’s nonsense. Influence doesn’t make someone great. Doing God’s will makes someone great. If God wants you to be well known, He’ll make sure you are. Don’t waste your time seeking fame when you ought to be growing in faithfulness. And take it from me, if God wants you to stay under the radar than no amount of hustling and networking will change that.
Influence is meaningless if God isn’t the One giving it to you. Don’t chase after influence. If you do, it will become your own handcrafted idol. Chase after pleasing Jesus. Chase after serving people. Chase after keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.
I promise you, trusting Jesus to take the lead is the best way to live. Don’t let ego or pride or selfish-ambition keep you from living the life God has called you to live. Serve where you are. Love where you are. Give your all right where you are. And by all means, trust Jesus right where you are. He knows the dreams in your heart. And He loves you enough to make sure the condition of your heart is properly prepped for those dreams to come to pass. Embrace the process. As someone ‘in-process’ herself, I can honestly say, “Trust me, it’s for your good.”