Thursday, January 16, 2014

True Ministry Success

From left to right: Me, Jake, Brady, Gus
I recently spent nearly three weeks on a road trip into the past.

From my childhood home, to the university I attended, to the last neighborhood I called my home, my travels took me through Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. Along the way, I had delightful and meaningful conversations with beloved friends and family, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. The odyssey culminated with a speaking gig at a middle school winter camp in Arizona. The camp director, Gus, was a former intern of mine who now leads a thriving junior high ministry at a large church in Phoenix. The camp's worship band was led by two amazing friends, Brady and Jake. The former is a fantastic worship leader and artist in Arizona, and he's coming out with two phenomenal EPs this year; the latter is a brilliant seminary student studying and growing in Portland.

Seeing these friends growing and leading reminds me of one of my ministry values: success is long-term holistic fruit:
We're not interested in making awesome youth group kids--we want to make healthy, Godly adults with a robust Christian spirituality. This means seeing students that love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength years later as adults. Success is having relationships with students that last beyond a program, seeing them follow Jesus for decades, not just for the years they participated in youth group or a program.
When I look at these guys leading and serving and discipling others, it's a reminder of the gracious gift of ministry. God allowed me the privilege and opportunity to be in relationship with these incredible people, to speak words of grace and vision into their lives, to listen and learn and laugh and weep and celebrate. The time I had with them was limited to a number of years and a specific location, but kingdom-of-God friendships are eternal ones. I'm certain to serve with these guys again.

I'm reminded of Paul's words to the Thessalonian church:
 Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.
This is success in ministry. It's not program attendance or budgets or number of books written or Twitter followers. True success is the gift of seeing the people you disciple choose to embrace the ways of the kingdom and disciple others, living into their gifts and passions into the decades to come. These friends--they are my pride and joy, my crown and reward.


  1. And that, Joel, is exactly the way we feel about you!
    Tim and Jill

    1. Love you both! Thanks for being someone who loved and believed in nerdy middle school Joel, it's made all the difference.