When God Shows Up… Part V

It was late 1999 when I first realised I was losing it.

A group of young people had made a pilgrimage to the Planetshakers conference over east and came back breathing fire. They were going to take the world… I remember a prayer meeting they held the night after they returned. I went to it somewhat awkwardly because I hadn’t gone to Planetshakers and I knew I wouldn’t be able to share their experience. After some group prayer they called me out for prayer as their leader and told me that whatever my vision was they were right behind it. They would support me 100% in whatever I chose to do and wherever I chose to lead.

That was very scary, partly due to the level of unquestioning devotion they displayed, but also because I actually had no vision. I was losing interest and losing passion for the youth scene. I couldn’t say that though, could I?… I thanked them for their prayers and wondered where it was all headed. Something was up…

In a world where vision was everything I didn’t have one. And I didn’t know how to ‘get one’. I felt like something of a fraud because now I needed to lead people and inspire them to keep going somewhere, but I didn’t know where.

That was the same year I was part of the team organising the Youth Together, a big citywide worship event. I found that a tough team to be on as I was the guy from the smallest church and somehow, while a few of the guys treated me well, (hello Bergs) I also felt the dis-interest of some of the big church players. I didn’t like being a pleb and whether it was me or them I dunno, but that’s what I felt. I was the ‘little guy’ and I didn’t like it much. (Which incidentally has shaped a lot of how I respond to so called ‘little guys’ these days.)

I remember the night of the event. After 12 months of planning and lots of $$$ I was reluctantly walking out the door and said to Danelle ‘do you reckon I should take a folding chair?…’ That was the first clue my own time in youth ministry was coming to an end!

When I got there I was offered the special front row seat and all the crap that goes with those kind of conferences. Outwardly I politely refused, but inwardly I vomited, and then spent the evening sitting right at the back of the venue chatting with Grant the youth pastor from the Forrestfield church. Neither of us really wanted to be there. As I drove home that night I was aware again that my heart was shifting.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…

That shift was showing up in the youth scene. We had systems in place, so the machine would grind on, but the heart was seeping out of it. As well as tensions in the youth leadership there were struggles in the church leadership as a whole. For a two year period from 1997-1998 we seemed to be in the perfect church, the perfect youth ladership team and the perfect pastoral team. It really felt like that. None of us were ever

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moving on. I always said that if I ever left LBC it would be to plant a church because there was simply no-where else that could come close to that community.

Somehow that seemingly perfect community came unstuck…

I didn’t realise how much it would shift a relationship when a person moved from volunteer worker to paid staff member. In appointing 3 part time youth staff there was now an accountability factor based on $$$$ that morphed our friendships somewhat. When a volunteer does a job you are often thankful for anything you get. When a staff member is employed to do a job you expect quality work – and I tend to have high expectations. So it wasn’t acceptable to cruise any more. We were doing an important job and it needed to be done well. (I still believe if you want to work in that expression of church and get paid $$ then that’s the deal.) But not everyone performed at a high standard consistently and it led to tension.

I have intentionally not singled people out any key players in our youth scene as there were many and I would hate to neglect anyone. But I will mention Debbie (not her real name) here because without her I don’t think we would have ever got to this point. While we were friends, we never became really close in that sense. The relationship was more like one I have had in the past as a coach with athletes who have been outstanding performers. There is a comaraderie that comes from the adventure we have been on together (at Forge we would call it ‘communitas’) and we definitely had that. We went thru good and bad together and formed a mutual respect and bond that was very special and valuable.

Debbie was one of the originals, one of the dis-enchanted crew who were there when we arrived, an amazingly gifted singer and a very creative thinker. I would regularly sit in meetings with her and as she would share ideas I would swallow hard and say ‘yes…’ all the time thinking ‘this is madness…’

In developing the evening service Debbie became the key leader, the point guard who ‘made things happen’. At 19 years old she carried a fair bit of responsibility and for the most part she managed it very well. However in getting the job done she sometimes walked over a few people, sometimes told people they weren’t up to scratch and sometimes found herself quite wounded from parents and young people who got mad at her because of that.

She was surprisingly resilient, regularly taking hits that would have floored people twice her age but occasionally it would all get to her and we’d spend time mopping up. Most people never saw the side of her that got wounded, but I saw it regularly and felt for her. They only ever saw her as the tough-nut worship leader who sought excellence and didn’t like incompetence.

Debbie was also the kind of person who needed to be told things bluntly if she were to really hear them. Hinting didn’t work. I liked that about her because I don’t like dancing around issues either. I remember well that song with the words ‘the windows of heaven are opening’ that repeats several times in the chorus. It was a song she used often and I think we repeated it so many times one night – 15 times? 20 times? I was about to stand up and yell ‘I think the windows are open now! Can we please sing another song!?’ Needless to say we ‘talked’ about that on Monday.

One of my fondest memories of Debbie’s audacity was on a summer’s evening when we were having an outdoors baptism. We wandered around the front of the church wondering where we would put the stage. It wasn’t an area well set up for outdoor gigs. As we surveyed the place Debbie looked up… ‘What about the roof?…’

‘The what?…’ I said.

We all laughed but she was deadly serious. ‘Yeah! Its perfect for a stage! I’ll go up and have a look.’ So Debbie climbed onto the flat roof of the church offices and jumped up and down to show us how strong it was.

Who could argue with that?

And so it was decided after much discussion (ok – maybe 30 seconds) that it was a wild idea and one we ought to pursue if only for that reason alone! So the musos, sound guys and singers all carted their gear up onto the roof and began to rehearse. The looks from passing motorists were worth the effort alone. It was another one of those crazy ‘Debbie’ ideas that leaves a fond memory and brings a smirk every time I think of it. Of course ‘PR’ who worked for Occupational Health and Safety at the time couldn’t come to church that night because what we were doing broke every rule in the book!

Debbie walked the whole journey from floundering Sunday night service to rockin party mode to this new stage where she was now an employee of this beast we had created. I not only admired her ability to pull stuff together. I admired her willingness to learn and to grow as a disciple. She

was going thru her own life struggles that she would share with me and when I called her to make a choice as to who she was going to follow – as to what she was going to give her life to – she always made the tough choices.

Debbie – if you ever read this then you know who you are, and maybe you too look back on this time with some questions or some disappointment. But they were great times too weren’t they?! Thanks for the support you always gave me and for your bold leadership that at times landed you in trouble and at times left you beaten up and wondering why people could be so nasty. As I look back I remember you as one my all time favourite people!

Its a shame that year was one of our toughest… but more about that later

(And well spotted Deano for noticing that the last post was numbered part IIII instead of part IV I guess i would have discovered eventually… maybe at Part IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII….!)

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