Recently, at the closing meeting of one of our Youth Ministry Coaching Program cohorts, I (Marko) was having participants reflect on growth they’d seen in themselves over our year together. One of the participants had written the following statement, and read it to us. I asked her if i could share it publicly (making it anonymous, since it refers to some conflict in her church), and she graciously agreed.
When I walked in the room on my first day in the cohort, I felt behind and was unsure what was going on or what I had even agreed to when I had been asked to join, only a mere 18 hours earlier. I very much dislike not knowing what is going on. In a strange chain of events, I had met two cohort members just the week before and had survived graduate school with another. I didn’t know anyone else, and let’s be honest — I really didn’t know who Marko was either. I was on the outside of a group that had already formed. I remember actively telling myself “Don’t put yourself on the outside.” You see I had spent the months before that day discovering that that was my tendency and doing the hard work to engage. I didn’t trust anyone — I had been burned one too many times. I didn’t know if I wanted to be at my church, even though I had just started working there. Truthfully I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to work for a church much less be in ministry.
So there I was, broken, hurt, and trying my best not to be on the outside. On that first day, Marko said, “You get out what you put in.” Day two begins and Marko asks us to do some deep reflection (which I’ve now come to believe is a core value of YMCP). So I did it: I went there, but no way was I sharing what was on my paper. I don’t know who went first, but the tone changed in the room. We all went there and had the courage to share our junk through raw emotion. In that moment, the group showed me things could be different. The script of distrust and distance I had been living didn’t have to be the one I followed. That first meeting the cohort accepted me for what I had to offer and modeled trust for me. It was that day that I began to rebuild my ability to trust myself and those around me.
By November I began to sense a change within me. I started to hear my own voice again. No longer going through the motions to keep my job, although I was still bored. I remembered my frustration is a gift. It was no secret to the group that there were some jacked up things happening at my church. And those things were making me frustrated. Frustration doesn’t have to be a bad thing and there are positives that can arise from it. I had never noticed how it could be a catalyst for the way I advocate and provide pastoral care to my youth. There is a balance between healthy and unhealthy use of frustration and I’m continuing to find that for myself.
Through the encouragement of this group I found my voice again and used that voice to advocate for my youth. In advocating for them a sense of belonging emerged within the youth group. We created that sense of belonging in the face of the chaos at the church and without having a space to call our own. Belonging to our youth group now means you are a valued part of a uniquely weird community — and its relationships are only growing deeper each day.
The last half of my year in the cohort was spent on values. I wasn’t sure it was the right time to form a Values Discernment Team since I had only been at my church for a short period of time and was just starting to understand the culture. But in good Marko fashion, he gets in your head and doesn’t leave you alone. So we went for it: and it ended up being a beautiful, life-giving process. It was hard to hear some of what they said. I could no longer tell myself they were talking about someone else’s ministry. My ability to separate personal from professional was a huge growth step for me. I walked away focused on where we were going rather that where I may have failed. We don’t have them wordsmithed yet, but we are united and focused moving forward.
I also worked on my Personal Vocational Values. Truth: I was afraid to complete these because I thought they might not line up with working at my church. But I did and I’m so glad I did. Now they are a living document that provides me with more of an understanding of me and reinforces the confidence I have in my ability to discern next steps for my life.
Probably the most important accomplishment of the past year is rediscovering my passion and desire to be in ministry. And I’m still trying to figure out what that means and where it will take me.
We’re making great progress on filling some new YMCP cohorts right now. Greenville SC (easy drive from about 5 states!) is looking more likely for a fall launch. North Georgia UMC received a grant that will help Methodist youth workers from that conference (contact Sam Halverson — firstname.lastname@example.org — in the NGA UMC conference office for info) — this cohort is also likely to launch in the fall. Dallas UMC cohort just became a likely reality — it’s being organized by Charles Harrison (email@example.com). The Northern Indiana cohort is filling a little more slowly; but we’re still hopeful things will materialize there (April Diaz is the contact for that one — firstname.lastname@example.org). And of course, we’re officially starting the next NC cohort in a few months, along with our first ever Level 2 cohort in Nashville. Let us know if you have questions or interest. You can download a YMCP overview brochure here.