the plot thickens in my life story

Sometimes it helps to peek at snapshots of the formative events which have occurred in a person’s life. It may help us to understand better why an individual makes a seemingly drastic decision  later in life which appears to run contrary to common sense.

Confused yet? Let me invite you to glimpse at some snapshots of my life which give backstory as to why I became a children’s pastor years ago and then recently resigned. I won’t flesh out the details here; it would take too long.

When I was in grade school I was deeply impacted by the importance and meaning of the Statue of Liberty, particularly the poem which is engraved on its base. The seminal passage which forever impacted my thinking says

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I remember feeling the impact of those words and believing them, as I do now.

In my late teens I began to grow closer to Christ. Many opportunities developed to share my faith. I remember weeping for the nations over a world globe, particularly those mired in poverty and who may never hear the gospel.

I went to Bible college and later to seminary with the goal of becoming a Bible scholar, but something happened on the way to success. I was introduced to the joys of children’s ministry and experienced simultaneous incredible fulfillment and potent frustration. It would seem that the rest is history, given my many years spent working in the church with young children and families. Good grief. I even earned an MDiv and DMin so I could learn to be a better children’s minister.

But something is happening in me. Something is afoot. And I do not completely understand it. It’s as if I am sailing with Truman (from the movie, “The Truman Show”) on that boat, only to discover that what I assumed to be the limit of my horizon is falsely set by my lack of understanding concerning God’s perspective.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not about being limited by children’s ministry or the local church. I love children’s ministry and the local church! It is about being limited by a worldview which fails to remember that God created us in his image, his likeness. We are created to obey and worship him, and to flow in the creativity which he has embedded in our DNA! Truman played his entire life by the script set for him by others. I don’t believe for a moment that I have done that. Such a claim would be far too melodramatic. However, I have sometimes (not always) responded to life with decisions which were expected of me by society. I refer here to decisions which had more than one valid option, more than one path that equally would have been an expression of obedience to Christ.

Bible college or university?

Bible scholar or children’s minister?

Full-time ministry or continued blue collar labor?

Continued ordination or setting aside credentials to better identify with the lost?

Volunteering within the four walls of a church building or focusing outside its walls on people who will likely never enter it?

I feel like I am marching that staircase now, unsure of what to expect, uncertain of what lies ahead. In some ways I am disillusioned. But mostly I am hopeful. And honestly, the path feels more like a muddy uphill, winding trail in Portland’s Forest Park!

I love Jesus Christ. I love his church in its many varied forms–attractional, missional, liturgical, casual, with a building or without–because it is about people. People following Jesus and encouraging other people to do the same. People worshipping God and helping each other throughout life’s turbulent seasons.

There are so many other snapshots I could have shared which likely would have more fully explained why I am on this peculiar journey. I dare not guess at what may lay beyond that obscured doorway. I hope for joy, but I know it will be accompanied by sorrow. I trust for clarity in God’s purposes, but I know that I will always have questions. Mostly, I want to make a difference in the margins of the culture in such a way that gives honor to God and brings others to faith in Christ while helping them the best I can along the way. I pray God will use me across generations with young and old. I may yet have some part to play in children’s ministry in the future. But then again, I may not. God will have to show me which way to go.

I suppose this is my counterintuitive way of saying that my part in this story is changing and possibly becoming even more obscure. That is for the best, I think. Notoriety is a terrible burden. I would rather take up the cross which Christ has reserved for me.

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7 responses to “the plot thickens in my life story

  1. WOW Glen! Thanks for sharing the snapshots. I will definitely be praying for you while you are in this place of your journey. I think I may be in a similar place and I have more questions than answers (and maybe that’s the way God wants it to be for now).

    Thanks again.

  2. Y’know, I’ve always looked at the giants of the faith as they have boldly proclaimed that “God led me to do this” or “God called me to do that” and I’ve wondered how come God doesn’t tell me what to do like that. But the older I get, the more I’ve seen that the process is more like yours. There are many times I can look back and see that, yes, indeed, God led me here. But there are other times in which God replies to me much as He did with Job: “Hey, Tim, are you God?”

    Divine ambiguity is scary for all of us. It’s like Indiana Jones stepping onto a land bridge that, from his perspective, he couldn’t see. We trust, we hope, we lean fully on the BIG arms of God and we don’t sweat the details.

    Yup, easy to say, hard to do. You are in my prayers, my brother. And for what it’s worth, God has used you in the encouragement of His servants far beyond your locality. He is moving and leading you.

  3. Mr. Woods,
    I would love to hear more about your experiences ministering “in the community.” My brother and I direct our church’s Youth Outreach ministry (which started as a “bus” ministry). We are young and inexperienced but we quickly discovered how often people expect the unsaved to come to us, rather than us going to them as the Great Commission so clearly commands. We view our bus as a tool, but we really want to start ministering IN the community. Our small city has a large refugee/immigrant population which our church has never really interacted with until our bus route started. We know we need to go to them, even though it breaks the traditional mentality that the unsaved must come to church or some program to be saved.

    There is one large, government subsidized housing community where there are literally children everywhere. We are so burdened to reach them, but after much prayer and research we strongly feel the bus is not the best way. Can you offer advice or recommend resources or contacts who have experience starting community based programs? We’re concerned about liability, safety, permits etc. As much as I just want to GO and DO we need to make sure we have covered all the bases.

    May God continue to use you to glorify Him!

    ~Noelle

  4. Hi Noelle,

    Thanks so much for your note. I am excited to sense your passion for outreach to the lost and marginalized in the community. It will take people such as you and your brother modeling for the rest of the church community in your area how it can be done. I am very fortunate in that regard as I live in the Portland, Oregon area. There are a number of ministries which do this with excellence. First off, I recommend taking a look at Compassion Connect, which is located in SE Portland. They plant people as missionaries in local apartment communities. It is truly incarnational ministry as the missionaries are part of the community, rather than coming in from the outside. They can show you how to do this.

    Second, if that is not a viable option right now, you will want to at least get to know key people in the apartment community, such as the apartment managers, and parents who are thought leaders in that apartment. Let them know you desire to encourage the kids and families by offering activities, resources, options, etc. Often in low-income apartments, there is very little for kids to do, other than to invent their own fun. In urban contexts, this is often a recipe for gang recruitment and worse.

    Third, an additional option which could dovetail with option two and/or one is to develop a sidewalk Sunday school ministry. Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries is the pioneer of this strategy, and he continues to make a huge difference in New York City. This has its downsides if you fully use his approach of busing kids to a central location. However, if you use the central premise of kids church in the field on a smaller scale, it becomes very doable.

    I invite continued conversation. I will pray for you that God gives you wisdom and strength for your journey. Be blessed!

    Glen

  5. Pingback: adventures of a reluctant protagonist | Glen Woods·

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