I am a newbie. Only eight months on the job. Looking back over the first few months, they were a whirlwind of organizing, making to do lists, curriculum cramming, closet cleaning and name learning. Our youth pastor, Ryan Pendergraph, had eighteen years of experience but was brand new to the church and area. While I had no experience working for a church, I had eight years as a member of our church on my side. We teamed up well, I knew the people and the traditions and he knew the how and the why. Some days I was more of a tour a guide than an assistant. He was (and is) more of a mentor than a boss.
We managed to dodge a few landmines as we navigated the world of confirmation; we stirred the pot by changing-up some of the traditions of Senior Sunday; we experimented with the flow of Sunday nights; and somehow, we made it successfully to the end of the year and into summer.
I was beginning to gain confidence. I told him I thought our kids needed a local mission opportunity. Something right here, in our own back yard. “Next year,” he said. But the opportunity presented itself and I boldly declared that I would take on a VBS service project, alone, at a nearby church that had no kids or even young adults. He agreed, finally (with a slight smirk).
It only took one meeting with the Associate Pastor of the little inner-city church for me to know I had gotten in way over my head. The church had about 20 regular attendees. All but two members were over the age of seventy. At that point I only had two adult volunteers, and a dozen kids, mostly middle schoolers. There was no backing out. Ryan encouraged me and gave me a pep talk worthy of rallying an underdog little league team in the final inning of a championship game. Frankly, I was still convinced the week would be complete chaos as he headed out of town for a mission trip with our most active high school students.
Ryan’s wise words were, “I am trusting God to provide the extra people you need […] But regardless, I know that those kids will be loved well and shown the grace and truth of Jesus, the rest is up to the Holy Spirit anyway. And if all you can do is sing “Father Abraham” and play “Jesus says” for three hours, it will be more than what they had if you and others didn’t show up. God won the moment you said you would do this VBS, do your best to take care of the details and trust Him with the rest. You can’t lose.”
He was right. God did provide an overabundance of youth volunteers. We had over 40 youth and 5 adults to serve an average of 16 VBS kids for six hours a day for a full 5 day week. And we did much better than “Father Abraham” and “Jesus Says.” The Holy Spirit did show up in very unexpected ways. And I certainly didn’t lose. I won, we all won.
I spent the next days sitting back and watching our youth step out of their comfort zones, take charge, and lead the activities all on their own. I saw families being connected with a church that they desperately needed. I felt the joy of kids and heard their laughter filling the halls of a dying church. I watched God take our VBS lesson and use it to bless the teen sister of a VBS camper. Never saw that one coming during all the hours of planning and worrying if the lessons were too mature for our intended audience. But God knew all along that these lessons would speak to her when she needed it most.
So here I am, eight months into the best job ever. Ryan’s words of encouragement for me that VBS week stay with me. What have I learned in these short 8 months? I have learned to do my best to take care of the details and trust God with all the rest. He will show up. He can, and will, use even me. He will surprise me. And I should always be bold enough to say: “Here am I, God. Send me.”