That time I was placed on academic probation…

CCW Spring Retreat ’16

I started my journey of undergraduate work in the Fall of 1998. I was a music education major at Jacksonville University. Music seemed like the one thing I was made to do on this planet. I was excited to start freshman year and have the college experience by living on campus. It wasn’t long, though, that I become disinterested in the academic discipline of music. Going to the practice rooms felt like a cruel chore and eventually, that feeling made going to class in general feel like torture. Maybe it was immaturity, or I just needed a new major. My scholarships were linked to my major so I felt stuck.

By the end of the spring 1999 semester, I heard my advisor say those two scary words: ACADEMIC PROBATION. It wouldn’t be the last time I heard those two words, but the first time was dramatic enough. Probation meant my scholarships were placed on immediate hold. Since I had already taken out a couple of loans, my options were limited as to how I would remain at JU. After it was all said and done, I decided to transfer to UNF – where my undergraduate journey would include many highs and lows (more lows than I am ready to admit) for the next 6 and half years. But on that April day in 1999, I honestly believed my life was over.

This is the moment that every young adult fears: the consequences of your actions being more severe than you realized. Yes, I had issues with JU’s music department, but I knew this was my fault. On the outside, I probably appeared confident and care-free. On the inside, I was reconciling myself to the idea that I had failed at life.

What I needed at that moment was someone to tell me this is not the end. I needed someone to remind me that while these mistakes were significant, they weren’t strong enough to predict my future. I needed someone to reassure me that I could overcome – that I was not the first person to be placed on academic probation or to be forced to transfer because of it. I did NOT need someone to make sure I understood the gravity of my situation – I was already doing a great job of that whether anyone knew it. I needed a unique voice that could speak into my college/young adult experience. I needed a voice of hope that my future was still secure in Jesus; and I found that voice in the guy who was basically my campus minister: Kendall Hunt.

Don’t get me wrong – I have amazing parents who have always cheered me on and they were very supportive throughout my undergraduate journey. I also had strong friendships with other young adults on and off campus. And I had a beautiful church family who continued to create a loving and merciful environment for me. But no one spoke to my life the way Kendall did in that season. Kendall’s job was to pastor college students, and that specific emphasis made his words ring so much louder than all of the others. I got through that season (and a few others) because God sent Kendall to be my college pastor. Years later, Kendall would take me to a leadership conference in Atlanta where he encouraged me to consider pastoring college students alongside my friend (and his future wife) Alison. I don’t think you need a degree to figure out why I told him yes.

I’m starting my 15th year leading ministry to college students this fall. Right now, young adults are driving up to UNF and starting to move in. Others will be heading to Flagler this weekend and JU next week. They are all hoping to have the best experience of their life on campus. But the truth is, some of them will hear messages like “academic probation”, “C grade for the first time”, “you were not accepted into the program” and “the funds have run out.” Friends, I am still in campus ministry because when this happens, I want to be the first person they call. I want to be the voice of hope through the seasons of their college experience.

Some folks think campus ministry is unnecessary – calling it simply “youth group 2.0”. Not only does that diminish the great work of youth leaders, but it also shows a clear misunderstanding of the importance of campus ministry. Ministry to campus students is a unique opportunity where fun and games fill up less than 5% of our time. We are missionaries and counselors who have the grand privilege of loving and leading emerging adults as they figure out where their life is heading. Campus ministry is vital to the continued development of young adults and critical for the future of Jesus’ Church. And I am humbled to work with an amazing team of people as we serve college students on three campuses in Northeast Florida.

Campus to City Wesley Foundation turned 5 in August 2016. As we head into our 6th fall semester, we are stronger and busier than we have ever been. We are convinced that serving college-aged young adults is important for the Church and the world. On Saturday, August 27 we are gonna celebrate all that God has done in the last 5 years and anticipate the miracles that await us in the future. I’ll be reflecting on that April day in 1999 when I thought my life was over and I heard that voice of hope from Kendall. And I’ll be re-committing myself to be that same voice for college-aged young adults for as long as the Lord allows.

5th_Anniversary_Instagram_PostPS Everyone (especially the older than college crowd) is invited to join us for the Anniversary worship night at Mandarin UMC on August 27. For more information, click here.

That time I was placed on academic probation…

Lessons of the Year #3: Leadership Matters

Sorry for the delay. The problem was more technical, but I apologize. I said Lesson #3 would post yesterday and that was as good as a promise. Keeping your promises matter…which is a great lead in to lesson #3.

It became clear that the lessons of being limited and needing to grow up were not isolated. My need to realize my limitations and be faithful with my body was deeply connected to my purpose in this life. Likewise, moving on to maturity and embracing my age was also a part of my call into ministry. As the Director of CCW, I have been given the amazing opportunity to participate in the lives of college-aged young adults. It would be wrong for me to take this role lightly as the late-teens/early 20s stage of life is arguably the most significant for an adult. With great privilege comes great responsibility. The third lesson was one I already knew: leadership matters. This work is too important not to take it seriously. But in light of the other two lessons, the third one now means a whole lot more.

It seems that we now hear of a leader who has fallen from their pedestal every few months or so. It is especially tough when we have trusted someone, near or far, and given them a great deal of power and affluence only to find out that they have led in unwise, even corrupt ways. When the news gets out, those that lean more merciful respond with ‘well, everyone makes mistakes’ or ‘they are only human’, or ‘they were under so much pressure’. No matter how we may try to rationalize the acts of the fallen leader, the damage has been done. The Penn State scandal is just one more case of normal people, with a ton of influence, making the wrong decisions for fear of losing it all. It is a tragedy.

Unfortunately, these scandals are nothing new. History records many men and women over the centuries who have misused their power and only thought of their own interests. The result is that some are so afraid of the ‘all powerful leader’ that they have embraced ‘leadership by committee’. I am not sure if the latter is a good replacement. At the end of the day, all of us tend to look to a person, not a committee, for the way forward. From the ancient scriptures to last week’s editorials, we all tend to look for one woman or man who will take responsibility for more than themselves and lead us all to a better future. Leadership matters.

As I said in lesson #2, there are hundreds of next gens depending on me to be a leader worth following. This realization is not something that I should begrudge or complain about…it is a high privilege. Yes, I am human. Yes, I make mistakes, Yes, the last year has been the most challenging of my life so far. But it is my role, and people are depending on me to be faithful…not in place of their dependence on God, but because of it. If it is true that God is the One who ultimately gave me this leadership opportunity, then my response to His sovereignty is directly linked to how seriously I embrace this role. God knows that human beings need leadership, so He has gifted us with men and women so that we may be led to growth and maturity in Him. Again, leadership matters and I cannot treat my calling as a small thing.

I am called to a higher standard of behavior. I am expected to handle the circumstances of life with extra grace. When it comes to my health or personal growth, it is a part of my call to be a couple of steps ahead. None of this speaks to me being better than anyone else. But it does speak to me being a leader. My leadership matters, and I always knew that. But after my first year with CCW, I have never been more aware of how important it is for me to know this and live by this.

Whether you are a parent, pastor, employer  or professor, our leadership roles have never been more significant. People are depending on us to do more than make great speeches and do great work. They are depending on us to be great people…leaders worth following in every way. God knows we are human and prone to mistakes. He also knows that with Him, we are capable of being more than we ever knew we could be. Leadership, at every level, matters more than we will ever know.

Lessons of the Year #3: Leadership Matters

Lessons of the Year #2: I have to grow up…again and again and again

Working for CCW over the last year has been a whirlwind of joys and pains. God has used the good days to encourage me and the tough days to teach me. I talked yesterday about confessing the truth that I am limited. I am not invincible so I have to take care of my body, get rest, eat well, etc. I am 32 years old now, not 20…and my age is not a mere detail. Confessing I am limited actually led me to a surprising revelation which is the next lesson.

Lesson #2: I have to grow up…again and again and again.

Up until this last year, I kind of saw maturity as a one time event with a few booster shots along the way. Growing up seemed like a static moment in a person’s life that once achieved, one would not need to revisit. Truth be told, this belief made it easier to say ‘I do not know what I am doing with my life’ and hope for that growing up moment to come at some point in my mid-thirties. At first, admitting that “I am limited” felt like freedom from major responsibilities and decisions that needed to be made. What I quickly discovered though, was believing that I was invincible and did not need to observe my God-given limits was actually rooted in immaturity.

What I am learning is this: maturity is an extremely dynamic process, not a static, one time event. The encouragement in Hebrews 6:1 to move on towards maturity is spot on partly because it suggests that maturity requires movement in a direction.  Although we will never fully get there (to maturity) on earth, the journey towards it is worth it. If anything, immaturity is much more of a static and inert way of being. When we refuse to grow up and live into the transitions that come with life, we are essentially standing still in our immaturity versus moving on to maturity. This revelation has absolutely changed my perspective on my life and also on my ministry to young adults.

Several days ago, I posted a tweet that raised a few eye-brows: When we refuse to grow up, we also forfeit the rights and privileges that come with maturity. Age is not an accidental, insignificant detail. I am convinced that God has given us the ability to count our birthdays for the sake of marking out a path of maturity. As the expectation on a 6 year old is different from what we expect of  a 10 year old, I believe the move towards maturity must be more evident for someone in their mid-thirties than for the person turning 21. God knew exactly what He was doing when He ordained my birth for 1980. Therefore, my response to God’s sovereignty (my age) is indicative of my faith and trust in Him. Will I live as a 32 year old, or remain stuck in my twenties and further complicate my life? The choice to be 32 is a dynamic and motivating choice, and not as limiting as I perceive it to be.

This may seem like a trivial thing to some of you. Especially if you are a little ( or not so little) bit past the early thirties. But for me, embracing my age and moving to maturity reaffirmed my limitations and need for God to be my all-sustaining power and source. It also forced me to make some tough, but needed relational decisions. I had to come to terms with being a thirty-something, single guy whose peers were married and starting families. I had to start thinking about saving my money (because retirement could be 40 years away). Most importantly, I had to ask the question that 1 Corinthians 13:11 begs: what are the childish (maybe even twenty-something) things that I need to give up so that I can be a man. I am working on it…growing up a little more every day and embracing the truth that when I turn 40, acting like I am 32 will both socially and spiritually unacceptable.

The college-aged young adults that I have responsibility for in CCW may not know this, but one of the best things I can do for them is move on to maturity and embrace each season that has been planned for me. The worst thing I could do is act as if I were the same age as those entering college. This is true for all of us. Sometimes, the worst thing a parent can do is attempt to hold onto their thirties when their kids need to see a faithful response to God from a 45 year old.

For me, learning this lesson has been critical because there are hundreds of children, youth, and young adults looking to me week after week for leadership, guidance, advice and an example worth following. To not take that seriously is to devalue every single one of them. This thought will take me to my third and final lesson of the year. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

Lessons of the Year #2: I have to grow up…again and again and again

Lessons of the Year: I am limited

One year ago today (August 1), I began a new job as the Executive Director of Campus to City Wesley Foundation. The last year has been the most rewarding and the most challenging year of my life. I am grateful for many lessons learned in the last 12 months. With one year on the books, I am even more confident that our ministry to young adults is an essential part of the mission of the Church. I have never had more vision for our work and more hope for the future.

When I began working for CCW, I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. It was about 6 months later that it dawned on me, “I have absolutely no clue what I am doing.” As I said, there were many lessons learned…most of them the hard way. The struggles and challenges, though rarely desired, always have a way of teaching us wisdom. I could spend all day talking about the number of things God taught me in the last year. For the next three days, I will talk about three primary lessons that are having the greatest impact on my life these days. Hopefully, these lessons will be helpful for you. So here goes…

 Lesson #1: I am limited. 

Right after the Reclaim Gathering in March, I had a doctor’s appointment that revealed my risk for high blood pressure. After a short conversation with my doctor, it was determined that my greatest risk factor had more to do with genetics than anything else. She gave me a list of things to do going forward and probably told me not to worry, but I fell into a panic. I spent several days having multiple panic attacks. The reason: something could happen to me that I could not control.

I have preached my share of messages about ‘letting go and letting God’, but never before did I experience the crisis of faith that comes from having to literally trust God with my life. During one of the panic attacks, I began to pray and ask God for direction. I believe I heard His response to sound like this: “You need to exercise regularly, eat better, get more sleep and take a day off each week.” I was hoping for something more miraculous or deeply spiritual. But it was the word in due season for me.

In my twenties, I really saw myself as invincible. I was (and still am) a card-carrying workaholic. My days were marked with 4-5 hours of sleep, no breakfast and late lunches with no need for exercise because I wore size XS. As we all know, turning 30 changed everything…I just refused to admit it. Something in my head said that I had to keep living as if I were a 20 year old. I validated this thought practically by saying I had a strong work ethic, missionally by speaking of the urgency of the kingdom and theologically by talking about having eternal life now. It sounded good, and I probably convinced a few people. But the truth was and is (at least for life on this planet)…I am limited.

Admitting this to myself was really hard to do at first. But once I did, it opened up a brand new way of living, working and worshipping. Admitting my limitations frees me to depend on God’s limitless power and provision. It is totally okay for me to say, “I cannot do this”, because then I can confidently say “God can do anything” and then get out of His way. Admitting my limitations does not give me a free pass to do nothing by the way. It helps me understand, for instance, the reasons why God commanded His people to work 6 days and observe Sabbath on the seventh. The seventh day served as a reminder that all of our energy, talent, ability and stamina come for the all-sustaining God. Embracing this holy ordering of things, I can better discern my role in the story that is centered and focused on God Himself. Confessing “I am limited”, has become one of the greatest calls to worship for me…realizing that the end of me helps me access the all of God. 

Okay…some of you are probably worried about me now, so let me clear up some things. I am doing great. My doctor reaffirmed that I am in prevention mode, not worry mode. I am still in the process of changing my lifestyle: exercising at least 3 times a week now, trying to stay on a low-sodium diet and re-orienting myself to getting 6-8 hours a night. Again, it is a process, but it is happening. It has been a tough few months, but totally worth the growth and maturity that I have gained as a result. Which leads in to tomorrow’s lesson…

Lessons of the Year: I am limited