path-less-traveled

 

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I have been thinking about this issue of youth ministry education and education in general for a while, but first let me give you a little history on my education journey.

I was 17 years old when I received the call to ministry when an African pastor, who did not know me, called me back after praying for me and asked me, “Do you feel a calling to ministry? ” I said I did and we prayed again. That sealed it for me.

I did not have many job choices as a senior, it was youth pastor, social worker, or professional bowler (no kidding, I had mad skills)). The prayer with that African Pastor, plus the investment of youth pastors, pastors, and camp counselors made my choice pretty easy. So, I chose to go to a year of community college and then I went to a 4 year college which lasted all of about three months. Cranial development was not for me; at least not in book form. I needed something different.

I then shipped myself off to a year long, experiential discipleship school called Master Commission. At the time, it was the only school of it’s kind, located in Phoenix, Az.. I drove my beat up Ford Galaxy, vinyl seats, and no air conditioning through the Texas and New Mexico heat. It was a great year and I learned many great tools and disciplines that helped me launch my youth ministry career.

Today, after 23 years of youth ministry, I still have no degree, but I have a blog, a couple of You Tube shows that I am proud of, a youth ministry store with 17 products and growing, and a full time youth pastor job at a great church with great kids. Life is good. ( note: I went back to school and I am two classes (both math, both I hate) shy of my two year degree)

In the end, there are 2 grinding paths. The educational path is one type of grind. We grind out grades, papers, and in the end a diploma, a masters, a Phd, write a book, teach at a college, etc. Some Pastors hire based this grinding path. The academic path is a vetting system. It tests you and if you pass you are worthy of hiring.

The experiential grind means we train early (17,18) work like crazy, develop skills, get mentors, get licenses and certifications, work on projects that are unique and succeed at them, and build a life where one day you are “in demand” because of the skills you have developed. Some Pastors loo at the experience portion of the resume before the academic accolades. The are asking: Did you pay your dues? How many successes have you have? Do you have the skills (vs academic knowledge)  to help me build this church? The experience grind, and youth ministry itself, has a way of separating out the weak from the strong; the called and the merely interested.

I chose the latter path. I am neither better nor more qualified as a youth pastor because I chose it, but I am glad I did. That path fit me perfect. If you are on a path and the grind is just too hard, or simply ill fitted to your personality, try another path. It’s ok. Freedom!

Which path did you take? Are you glad you took it?

What path are you on right now?

Did your path produce what you though it would?

If you were advising your 17 year old self right now, what would you say?

 

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5 Comments


  1. Paul, I had no idea we had followed such similar paths- right down to hating math! Really good thoughts here. For me, the classes I took paled next to the input from mentors and people who were actually DOING student ministry, not just teaching about it. Both are valid paths in my mind, although I worry that as youth ministry becomes more of a “profession” (which tends to emphasize the academic path) it has become less of a “calling.” Thanks for sharing!


  2. That is funny. I will be in Florida in July. We should do lunch. Maybe in Melbourne. That’s halfway to Kissimmee from the camp I am speaking at. Let me know.

    Paul

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