I just visited Boise, Idaho last weekend. There's a statement I didn't ever expect to say! Seriously, being born and raised in CA, and lived for significant portions of my life either in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, even the thought of going to a place like Boise never crossed my mind. Not that it's a bad place, it's actually quite nice and beautiful. But more on that later.
As I continue my search for youth pastor jobs, one of the places I sent my resume to was a church called Trinity Presbyterian Church in Boise. They sent me a questionairre to fill out, and one of my responses sparked the attention of the senior pastor. On a question about which authors or books played a significant role in my faith journey, theological development, and youth ministry, I put down that Bishop N. T. Wright has been probably the biggest influence on my life in terms of how I think theologically and how I read the Bible. (I highly recommend reading him if any of you haven't yet. He's incredibly insightful!). The senior pastor said that he owns almost everything Wright has written, and has played a major role in his thinking as well. When I did my first phone interview with him and another member of the search committee, our conversation was more theological than anything pertaining strictly to youth ministry. I had a couple of follow-up phone conversations with other members of the search team. After another couple of weeks, they told me that I was their primary candidate and wanted to fly me out for a weekend to see the church and talk more in-depth with them. This was the first time that I was ever asked to fly anywhere for an interview, so it was certainly an exciting opportunity! The church paid for my flight and made all the arrangements. So, last Friday morning I flew out to Boise.
The trip was definitely an enjoyable experience! I had a lot of great conversations with the senior pastor about the history of the church and the ways he has led the congregation for the past 10 years. What makes this church interesting is that it's a Presbyterian church that is moving in the direction of becoming more like an emerging church. The senior pastor has been highly influenced by guys like Brian MacLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and lots of other folks involved with the whole emerging church ordeal. Having studied under professors at Fuller who do research into the emerging church and other things related to postmodern culture and church development, I'm very intrigued and encouraged by many things in the emerging church. So needless to say I wanted at least to see what Trinity Pres is about.
Within a couple of hours of landing in Boise and talking to the senior pastor, I had dinner with him and his wife, and two other couples that are part of the search team. I stayed with the elder to youth ministry and his family over the weekend, and on Saturday spent my time split between more time with the senior pastor and a commissioned lay pastor who has mentored youth pastors in the past. There were lots of questions back and forth, lots of sharing of visions and ideas, trying to get at what I would be bringing to the youth ministry at Trinity. I got along really well with the senior pastor and everyone else I spent time with. It really was a wonderful time of meeting new people, sharing life stories and ministry experiences, and talking about what God is doing at Trinity.
Sunday morning was also very cool, as I got to attend the contemporary worship service and hear pastor Joe preach. While they played only one song that I didn't recognize, they use most of the contemporary worship songs that I'm familiar with (unfortunately they are currently without a drummer. A couple of them asked if I would be willing to play, but I chose not to so that I could just observe). They had some liturgical elements that I wasn't that familiar with, but those were mostly call and response prayers. I also liked Pastor Joes's sermon. It was on Moses' calling at the burning bush, and was quite good. He had some insights into the passage that I hadn't heard before, particularly that while Moses had stood up for the Israelite slaves before, Moses never identified himself as being one of them. Then God calls them "my people" when He calls Moses. This sunday was also the 10 year celebration of Pastor Joe's arrival to the church, and there was a church brunch afterwards. They also talked a lot about their Inside Out Sunday from the previous week, where 150 or so members of the church got invovled in various service projects in the community rather than coming to the church campus for worship. Very cool indeed! Later that Sunday I got on a plane and flew back to LA.
While I enjoyed my trip, I had some reservations about taking the position if it were offered to me. The first being that moving out to a whole new area by myself and starting life in unfamiliar territory definitely scared me a bit. I know that making such a move could be an important step in my life, but the thought of it still did freak me out initially. Even so, I tried to surrender that and not worry, knowing that it was ok if I allowed myself time to think and pray about such a major transition.
The second reservation I had was the size and demographic of the church. There's probably less than 200 active members in the church, and the youth group is only about 20-25 students, a combination of junior high and high schoolers (mostly jr highers). Plus, there's almost no volunteer adult staff for the youth group. I'm not opposed to being part of a small church, but if I were to take on the position, I would have to do some major recruiting. This itself wouldn't be a problem, I'm up for the challenge, but it would be nice if there were at least two or three adults involved in the youth group, rather than just me doing everything. The age group the church as a whole is lacking in most is the 18-35 year old range, and this is the primary age group that I would want to pull from for adult leaders. So, I'd have also be thinking of ways to invite young adults to participate in the life of the church. Also, I'm much more inclined to work with high school or college students rather than junior highers. In essence, I would have to jump over some hurdles before I could really get to the point where I would be focusing on the things I really enjoy in youth ministry - working with high school students and focusing a lot on teaching and discipleship. There'd be LOTS of room for developing and expanding the ministry - which does excite me - but I'd have to do a lot of things that I'm not great at in order to be able to move the ministry in a direction where I could feel like I was being the most effective.
Despite my reservations, it turns out they won't be a problem, as I didn't get offered the position. Pastor Joe emailed me early Wednesday morning and said that even though I bring a lot of experience and passion to the youth ministry, the search team decided that what I bring doesn't quite meet their exact needs at this time. Take it for what you will, but I think that they simply saw the need for someone to enjoy focusing on mostly junior high students rather than dealing with it for the time being to be able to move on to other things. So, I was both a little bummed, but also relieved upon getting this news. All in all, I'm not worried, as I have another job interview with First Baptist Church of Riverside next week (they're only about a hour away from where I live, much closer), and began sending out more resumes to churches I saw recent postings for online before I even got the email from Trinity.
So, the train keeps moving on. God is faithful, and I have no doubt that He'll lead me in the right direction. I enjoyed the experience of traveling to this church, and I feel like it was an important step in this journey of job-hunting. I am encouraged by what they're doing, as I do enjoy seeing how God is empowering different churches to impact the Kingdom. I have trusted God to take care of me throughout the year, and He has. I have not lived in fear, which is a huge difference in how I view life compared to even a few years ago.
Thanks so much to all my friends and family who were praying for me throughout the weekend. I greatly appreciate it. Continue to pray for me, as I will be teaching high school again this sunday at Pomona First Baptist (home for now), and as other opportunities develop.