After serving in the youth ministry at Saddleback Church for 11 years, I quit.
It was the most difficult decision I ever made, it required an astronomical leap of faith.
Moments before I made the decision, I STILL COULD NOT REASON OUT WHY I needed to quit youth ministry. Nothing in my life was different—and I examined every corner of my inner life, friendships, and ministry. In my life, the way my faith plays out, every time I’ve given a question over to God, I had received some kind of answer. Sometimes it was only tiny insight, but there was always something.
In this, I experienced Absolute Silence for the first time. I knew in my head that I’d not been abandoned by God, but it felt like it. Understanding fled and left a void that uncertainty was eager to fill. I had heard about this kind of surrender before, and now it was my turn to walk faithfully in the shadows of ignorance.
My life hadn’t changed, but my heart did: I was unsettled, discontent, and without peace. I was 33 years old, and I’ve never had 3 unhappy days in my life. I was now in three months deep, with no end in sight. Ugly.
So, I resolved to quit youth ministry, and do something different.
In an instant, a literal instant (!), I felt a peace I hadn’t had in years.
And every day, for the next two weeks, God displayed his faithfulness. He revealed how he’d been working in my life for two years to get me to this tipping point. I said that I quit youth ministry, that’s not really correct. I didn’t really quit, instead God had a new calling in my life: DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I never really quit youth ministry, but I moved on in faith and obedience.
It was a WILD five year ride. I couldn’t have planned what happened if I’d been hopped up on the latest hallucinogen. I left Saddleback for a year, worked at another church for six months, pursued a church plant for six months, and then returned back to Saddleback for four years.
Near the end of the ride, I could sense a change coming and it happened: Rick Warren asked me to lead the adult spiritual maturity team at Saddleback. I was excited! A decade earlier I said to my hero/friend/boss Doug Fields, “If I ever leave High School ministry, I’d like to lead the spiritual maturity team.” And here I was, comfortably convinced that I’d serve in this role for a while.
A few weeks into my new ministry, I headed to a youth worker conference. Every year, it’s always “vacation” for my wife and I, because I was only there to record a podcast. God used this time of relaxing to reorient my heart toward serving youth workers. Through a series of conversations, an employment opportunity with Simply Youth Ministry, and answered prayers, I decided it was time to leave the church.
CRAZINESS! I’ve known since I was in eighth grade that I was created by God to help others know him better by serving in the Church (That’s a story for another time.).
I spent eight months equipping youth workers at Simply Youth MInistry and serving as a volunteer in Saddleback’s high school ministry. I knew it would be a ton of fun, but I didn’t expect my heart to change again, because it was so soon after my last shift.
A close friend of mine, Jeff Maguire, tweeted that he was looking to hire a high school pastor for his team. I thought, “I should help him interview people for that position.” Normally I would have said something, but decided it wasn’t my place. Minutes later, Jeff texted me and asked, “Do you want to help me interview potential high school pastors?”
Funny how God works.
Funny how he keeps working.
Four days later, lightening strikes as an idea settles to the forefront of my awareness: “I need to interview for that position.” My world stood still for several eternal seconds. All the pieces fell into place, all the paths made sense. Clarity and certainty showed up and they were unshakable, undeniable. After a few months deciding if I was a fit for Mariners Church, I accepted their offer to serve as the high school pastor.
I don’t know if my time away from youth ministry was an exile or a pilgrimage.
I do know God works in both, and that’s Enough for me.
Especially now that it’s over.