Being a children’s pastor came out of left field for me. I wasn’t looking, aiming, or intending to be in children’s ministry. It came while I was interning for Hayward Wesleyan Church (HWC) in the summers of 2001 and 2002. During those years, Pastor Mark Wilson was looking to hire a children’s pastor. After the summer of 2002, the idea was posited that I think about the children’s pastor position.
“Nah,” I thought. “My passion lies in youth ministry. If I’m going to work at a church, I’d like to focus on teenagers. I’m not sure about children.”
The leadership of HWC heard my heart and suggested adding middle school students to the job description. That would give Pastor Loretta Sunderland (current youth pastor at the time) relief to focus on high school students and leading worship.
“Hmmm,” I remember thinking, “that might work. I’ll focus on the middle school group and do children’s ministry sort of on the side.”
After much prayer and counsel, I decided to accept that position, and on June 1, 2003, I became the official children and middle school pastor at Hayward Wesleyan Church. Woohoo! I was excited!
I remember Mark asking me about a year later how I was liking my job. My response surprised both him and me!
I said, “Wow. I thought children’s ministry was a side dish so I could enjoy the main dish, middle schoolers, but it is actually the opposite! I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy working with children!”
There weren’t many models for me of what a children’s pastor was, either growing up, in my network of friends, or educationally. Providentially, in order to graduate with my friends, I took extra classes my last semester of college that was focused on education. These classes proved monumental for me in children’s ministry: human growth and development, curriculum and program development, and educational psychology. My primary degree is in youth ministry and theology, so these extra classes helped fill out what was missing in the elementary and preschool years. And before me, there wasn’t a children’s pastor at Hayward Wesleyan so I was able to forge my own way.
I’ve been a pastor at Hayward Wesleyan Church for 14 years now. The first 10 years was children and middle school. The last 4 years, the high school group was added to my job description along with a couple of ministry assistants–one for youth and one for children. The last 4 years have been good… amazing, actually… but I began to notice the strain a couple of years ago. I think the idea of a youth and children’s pastor who has oversight over birth through graduation is good, but I didn’t realize the width of that job description is too much to manage for one person. Maybe some could do it, but I began to realize that I couldn’t. That didn’t stop me from trying, though! I tried to make it work. I love my job… it’s an incredible opportunity to ministry to children and teens, but I was heading for the cliff: burnout.
Hence Amanda and I’s conversation with our church leadership in June. I was hitting the wall. I was burnt out. I needed both relief from the current spread of my job and a break from ministry to recover from burnout. I didn’t want to quit, but I was so spent that quitting seemed like a good way out. Substitute teaching looked appealing to me! I really didn’t want to quit because our church is already in a fragile state during the transition of senior leadership. Losing another pastor during this time just wouldn’t be helpful or stabilizing for this faith community. But I was fried (am fried).
Thankfully, though, the church board heard our hearts on the matter. Honestly and truthfully, Amanda and I don’t want to leave Hayward. The breadth of time and the depth of relationships at Hayward Wesleyan and the surrounding community have been both extremely valuable and fruitful. We would only leave Hayward if the Lord was leading us elsewhere, and while things are still in flux and somewhat fragile, at the moment, we feel the Spirit keeping us put at Hayward Wesleyan.
The church board concurred that the scope of my job description was unsustainable. They wondered if taking the responsibility of children’s ministry out of my regular duties would help provide relief and if a two-month sabbatical at the end of the year could provide a break. These were the two things I shared that I needed: relief and a break.
When I think about not being responsible for children’s ministry anymore, I feel sad. I have loved working with children in our community. Oh man, my favorite things are to hang out at the primary and intermediate schools during lunchtime and listen to their stories and all their adventures. I really enjoy simplifying the complexity of the biblical narrative into concepts, pictures, and teachings that children can understand. I also love the many adventures, trips, outings, camps, overnighters, and Nerf wars. These have been my joy over the last 14 years.
But, I do need to scale back the scope of my job at Hayward Wesleyan in order to not be a burned out pastor. In order to continue to thrive in ministry and making disciples who make disciples, stepping away from children’s ministry on the organizational level seems like the best option. I desperately need a relief or I won’t be much good to anyone.
So that was the first part of the decision: relief of the scope of my job as both a children and youth pastor. Moving forward, I will focus exclusively on youth ministry through Hayward Wesleyan Church and be available to help in a few other areas of pastoral leadership during this transitional time that I have been unable to do because of time constraints and other priorities specifically related to my job.
What this means specifically is that I will not be leading Main Street on Sunday mornings, Followers during the school year, Trunk or Treat, Easter Eggstravaganza, Kids Camp and VBS in the summer, and the many events that are specifically geared toward children and their families. Not being responsible organizationally does not mean however that I will stop being a human being and caring about children! I will always love and cherish the children in our community and will continue to reach out and pour into them in lots of informal and non-organizational ways :).
The second request was a break. So that was the second part of the decision: a break to recharge and re-energize and get some joy back. I will be taking a two-month sabbatical in November and December 2017. I am wiped out. I love being a pastor, but I don’t want to be a 14-year pastor. I want to be a long-tenured and a lifetime one. I simply love discipling people to love Jesus and wanting to make more disciples. Ministry, though, has a way of wearing down a human being because of the emotional and spiritual toll the calling has to endure. It takes a human being who is seeking the Lord deeply and trusting the Spirit completely and surrendering to Jesus fully to be able to minister out of any kind of deep well from which to draw from. If the well is dry because of personal inattention and too much workload, without assigning any kind of blame, then there is not much water to draw from in the well. I need a replenishing. And the kind of replenishing I think I and my family needs can only come from some intentional time away.
So that’s what is happening:
I am going to be focusing on youth ministry at Hayward Wesleyan starting at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year (relief) and am going to take a two-month sabbatical in November and December (break).
I am definitely excited and hopeful for what the future holds!