I was ready to quit. My resume was ready to be sent at all times. This church was not where I thought I was supposed to be. I almost felt like I was tricked into taking the job, but I did take it, and it was not going well. Right after college I was hired by an up and coming mega church. In seminary I interned at one of the most innovative churches in the country before accepting a position at a rapidly expanding church in the suburbs. I saw friends and classmates getting offers at the churches we all follow on twitter, and I assumed that mine would soon follow. I never expected to end up back in my hometown, surrounded by choir robes and stained glass. The first six months were rough. We averaged twelve middle schoolers and three high schoolers; when we combined the group two of the high schoolers quit coming. Who could blame them? I was ready to quit too.
About a year in I was asked to preach on a Sunday morning. We were in a series on the fruit of the spirit, and I was given the week of faithfulness. I eventually landed on the parable of the talents. The plight of the servant with one talent resonated with me way more than I wanted it to. I got it though. He saw the guys around him being given so much more than he was, so he just decided to mail it in. That was exactly what I had been doing. I was putting in as little effort as possible, and I was looking to jump ship the second an opportunity presented itself. But the rewards that were given to the first two servants had nothing to do with the amounts that they were given to start with, rather they had everything to do with how faithful they were with what they were given.
Convicted and embarrassed, I got to work. I started to write (after a decade in student ministry, my hard drive was sufficiently full to last a student seven years. The previous churches I had served at all had much bigger budgets, so I had been depending on recycled high end curriculum for most of what I taught to the youth group.) I played Frisbee golf with the lone high schooler who showed up, I took the middle schoolers to breakfast and dropped them off at school, I spent as much time as I could talking to parents, and we started to grow. Nothing crazy happened, but we eventually needed more than eighteen seats; that was cool. Somehow, a group of kids in the neighborhood started coming, so we put out a bike rack and more showed up. The Barna Group wasn’t exactly showing up to write church growth pieces on our group, but we were growing. Then we stopped. Some of the kids we put the bike rack in for broke into the church, and about a dozen houses around us. They actually burned one down. True story. I felt like we were starting over, again. I knew that God’s call was to be faithful, but it felt like I would never see the rewards of faithfulness.
I’m now almost five years in. We ebb and flow, but things are stable and relationships are deep. We run high 30’s to mid 40’s, which is not going to make me a main stage conference speaker any time soon, but is the highest attendance this century at our church. Over the past few years my friend Tim and I started to write and pray for our youth groups together, and God has blessed that in a way we never expected. I expected God’s blessing look one-way; it didn’t. I expected faithfulness to result in big numbers and a bigger platform; it didn’t. God planned something better. Something crazy happened this weekend; Tim and I hit a sales milestone years before we ever thought we would. I never thought I would love writing, but I do. I never expected to have a partner in ministry who doesn’t actually work with me or even attend the same church, but I do. God’s blessing may not turn out like you think, but faithfulness is so worth it.
Andrew Larson is the Director of Student Ministries at Faith Church in Cearwater, Florida. He is also a part of the best-selling arthur duo on DYM. Check out all his resources HERE.