Four years ago, I entered into a whole new chapter of my life through my role at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Since then, I’ve reflected many times on my experiences – both the good and the “what was I thinking” moments. Admittedly, I came into my role with a bit of arrogance. You know – the “I don’t have much experience, but I’ve read a few books about it” type of raw talent that doesn’t fool many for long. Little did I know that a humbling four years was knocking on the door.
I’ve learned so much over these last four years. But here are a few that stand out the most.
Ministry is about people, not programs. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? This was a lesson that I had to hear first, and then learn second. I like control of things I really care about, so naturally I always wanted to have my hand on the programmatic side of our ministries. But as I tried to plan, lead, and execute what I felt was the most important part of my job, I quickly lost touch with what WAS the most important part – the people. God didn’t call me in ministry to be a programmer. He called me to love people and encourage and support them in their own journey. Good programs are not the end – just a vehicle to get you there.
God really does use ALL things. Hardship, trials, and suffering are not just inevitable – they’re promised. Jesus told us that if we follow him, we WILL experience trouble in this world. The world is broken, and we’re fragile. But scripture also promises that ALL things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). Growth happens most not on the top of the mountain, but when we’re staring straight up at it. The times that God used the most to grow me the most these last four years were the hardest times, not the mountaintop moments.
Growth is a choice. It’s not an automatic process that happens by chance. Growth is something that we choose. I’ve said it before – what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always make you stronger. We decide the lens that we view those moments through, and allow them to make us better – or make us bitter. It’s so important to find what God has gifted you with, then plan how you’re going to grow in those gifts. I grew as a leader, a teacher, and a teacher not by chance, but because I chose to.
You can never be all things to all people. One of the greatest mistakes any church or individual can make is to believe that they will meet the needs and reach everyone they come in contact with. Clearly, this is impossible. But surprisingly, many still strive to do so. Our ministries were a great fit for some, but not for all. While I wish we could have reached every student, we were never built to. God uses many different people, experiences, and seasons to transform us. I just had the opportunity to be a piece of that puzzle to some of our students.
Simple is always better. I may sound like a banging drum with this, but I really believe it at my core. Complexity kills things. But, people are drawn to simple. They want it, respond to it, and are more likely to stay around things that are characterized by it. The more we can clear out the clutter and complexity from our lives, the better chance we have to focus on what really matters in our work, our families, and our faith.
God has been so good in allowing me to experience these last four years at a place filled with grace, love, and generosity. To all who were a part of my journey these past four years, thank you for loving me, encouraging me, and teaching me along the way.
• Colin Noonan recently celebrated four years as youth director at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee before starting his new job in church communications. To keep the conversation going, reach him at email@example.com.