Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Start in Ministry

My ministry "career" began in May 1990, with the church that meets in this building, the University Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado. I spent two of the most important, formative, and enjoyable summers of my life (1990 & 1992) working with the youth and families of this congregation.

I came to University as a 19-year-old kid at the invitation of Dale Hukle. In 1990, Dale was the youth minister for the University church. Four years earlier, he had been my youth minister at the Green Lawn Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas. In March 1990, Dale called me and asked if I would serve as his intern for the summer in Denver. At the time, I was an aspiring youth minister and in my sophomore year at Lubbock Christian University. At the time, I was also employed at the Brittany Restaurant in Lubbock flipping hamburgers. A month earlier, Vance Crowe had offered me an opportunity to spend the summer at Camp Blue Haven as a counselor (a dream job). After a lot of thought and prayer, I called Dale and accepted his offer to come to Denver for the summer and then called Vance and declined the opportunity to be a counselor at Blue Haven.

That was one of the hardest decisions in my life, and one of the most important. I've often wondered how different my life would have been had I taken the position at Camp Blue Haven. I know I would have enjoyed it there (I had already spent three glorious summers there as a pot-washer, and had the time of my life). But, the opportunity to work alongside Dale Hukle, one of the most important men in my life, and the chief mentor I've had in ministry, was an opportunity I could not pass up. Although, in taking the University job, I was biting off a lot more than I expected (but I found the chewing to be quite satisfying).

I remember arriving in Denver (actually, Aurora) late one evening in early May (I think it was the 12th). I came to Dale and Carla's house where I was supposed to be staying for the summer. I had a great reunion with Dale and his family and was enjoying a wonderful meal (I still remember the homemade strawberry shortcake!), when Dale said, "I've got some news for you. I just accepted a position with the Broadway Church of Christ (in Lubbock), and we will be moving there in 5 weeks." Then after the shock wore off, he continued, "And, YOU are going to finish the summer here at University as the youth minister (not, youth intern). The elders have already signed off on it."

Here I was, a 19-year-old kid, without a day's experience in leading a youth ministry, being told I was already hired as a youth minister for what was at the time the largest Church of Christ in the state of Colorado. And for a congregation I had yet to visit. And for a youth group I had yet to meet. Talk about baptism under fire. Half-a-lifetime later (literally), I look back at that moment as one of the single greatest gut-checks I've ever experienced . . . and as one of the most important moments of my life.

I relished those next 5 weeks as I sought to soak up all of the wisdom and instruction that I could from Dale. The first 3 weeks were spent in Denver meeting youth and families and the other members of the congregation, and receiving a crash course in big city, big church youth ministry. The final 2 weeks of that orientation were spent directing a Vacation Bible School in Kearney, Nebraska and teaching a class at Soul Quest, the camp York College hosts every summer. Then, as we came back to Denver from York, Dale gave me the reigns, and I did my best over the next 2-and-a-half months.

Those next 11 weeks were amazing. I didn't always make the wisest decisions, but my good ones somehow outnumbered the numb-headed ones. I developed some really close relationships with some fantastic teens and their parents. I saw a lot of growth (in the kids, but especially in myself). I baptized three of the teens that summer (the first time I had ever done that!). I began that summer as a teen ministering to teens (although, I made it to 20 eight days after I arrived in Denver), and left a changed man who knew without a doubt what I wanted to do for the rest of my life . . . ministry.

Little did I know, however, that 4 months after I left Denver, I found myself in the frying pan again. In January 1991, the Green Lawn Church of Christ (my home church) hired me to be its interim youth minister, a position I would hold for the next 8 months. God had prepared me for an even larger responsibility.