Wednesday, March 30, 2011

High School Transition Update

I haven't mentioned it much on this blog, but a lot of my time recently has been spent gearing up for an upcoming ministry transition: starting May 1, I'll become the high school pastor at Red Mountain Community Church. Mesa public schools is shifting to a four-year high school, so as the current 8th and 9th grade students move up into high school, I'll join them.

I've been doing junior high ministry since 2004, so this will be a significant shift for me. Here are some of the things I'm learning through this process:

Change is hard, but good. I'm not one to typically oppose changes; in fact, I'm the guy who thrives on the new, especially new ministry responsibilities and relationships. But even this change, which I'm confident is the right move, has been like spending an entire school year in limbo. I've been doing both junior high ministry in the present while preparing for high school ministry in the future. Kind of like the kingdom of God, I feel here and not here, now and not yet. It's not been easy on my schedule or my emotions, but I know it's all leading to a healthy transition.

Junior high ministry is my passion, not my identity. I love junior highers. A lot. I can confidently say that there will always be a special place in my heart--the left ventricle, to be precise--for young teens in early adolescence. But God has been refining my identity from being "the junior high guy" to "the pastor with a passion for the emerging generation." I at first balked at the idea of becoming the high school pastor. I didn't want to appear to be selling out or like I had used junior high ministry as a stepping stone into "real" youth ministry. I'm still convinced that junior high ministry is the foundation that much of high school ministry is built upon, that students' identity formation in junior high will affect them for the rest of their lives. But while I still love junior highers, it's not my identity. I probably won't be a junior high pastor for the next 50 years, but that doesn't mean I can't still love 'em.

Discipleship is best done in the long-term. I'm excited to move alongside the students I've been shepherding as they enter high school. Instead of only three years, I get six years to disciple these folks. The more time I get to spend with a particular group of students, the deeper relationships can go and more spiritual fruit will grow. An argument could be made that Jesus was with his disciples for only three years, and look what they accomplished. This is ignoring a key part of the Great Commission: "I am with you always."

Transition allows emerging leaders to thrive. Our 5th/6th grade coordinator, Dylan, will become the new junior high pastor. I'm so stoked to see him take on a new leadership role, to have a vision for junior high ministry and run with it. That couldn't happen unless I was willing to get out of the way so he could lead well. Similarly, our student ministries pastor, Mark, is giving me lots of space to lead in high school ministry. It takes a great leader like him to know when to step back so that others can grow in their leadership abilities, and I'm grateful for his willingness to let me lead.

The transition is only a month away! I'm trying to stay grounded in the present while eagerly anticipating the future. Please be praying for me, the students, and our church as we enter into this season of transition.


  1. Stoked for you Joel!

    I got to do the same thing at Cstone. I had the same kids from 5th grade until they graduated- I kept transitioning with them. It was awesome :)

  2. Dude pumped for you and the transition. Love your thoughts, I am always keen to approach a ministry and take them from Freshmen and see them graduate.

    It is a big but very important investment.

  3. Ryan and Duncan, thanks for the encouraging words! Definitely stoked to be with these students during the high school years.