Confessions of a Youth Pastor’s Husband

One of the most interesting things I learned about church culture after I got married to a youth pastor was that there was such a thing as “Pastor’s Wives Conferences.” Apparently it’s just a bunch of pastor’s wives going to a conference to learn about such topics as… well… I have no idea. Two and a half years in and I have not been invited to one yet.

I mention that because 1) I think I’ve learned a lot about church in the last two+ years and 2) I think I have a perspective as the somewhat rare “pastor’s husband” that might be of interest. I have to warn you though that at the start I do not come off very positively. At all. But don’t worry! It gets better I promise.

When I first started dating my future wife and learning more about her weekly ebb and flow I confess to feeling just a little confused. She often seemed very busy and at times stressed and judging by what she told me of her colleagues they often seemed busy and stressed too. Apparently burnout is a huge thing for church staff from pastors to support staff. That seemed reasonable to me but I also figured that in the 40 hours that full time jobs typically require a youth pastor can pull together two meetings for kids a week and whatever other meetings and planning required.

Yes, I told my wife what I figured. Yes, I am a poor, little, unintelligent man.

Don’t worry I moved past my woefully inadequate understanding of what the typical youth pastor does. Today I continue to have a deep and abiding respect in the work my wife and her colleagues (many of whom I count as dear friends) do, week in and week out. I hope to explain just a little of this work during the rest of this entry. She is called and blessed to do what she does, and while it’s a lot of work and hard at times, a simple acknowledgement or thank you from time to time I know is enough.

First off, hours. At my wife’s church, employees are typically asked to work 40-50 hours. Although much of the work is planning, figuring out logistics, coordinating volunteers, etc. at the center of the work is people. This isn’t a clock in/clock out job; where there are people there are needs and struggles and the work can seem endless, there is always more to do.

Second, retreats. A youth pastor does far more than two events a week. They plan two retreats a year. These are massive weekend events where all the kids go to a camp where they have tons of fun and learn a lot about their faith. They are amazing and vital but also a planning nightmare, totally exhausting, and cost a ton. Camps are typically booked out a year beforehand and as soon as the Fall retreat is done, you need to start thinking about the Winter one. These are always on the horizon.

Third, mission trips. These go by different names depending on the church but most people know about them. Youth trips, usually in the summer, where a group travels somewhere else (often overseas) to assist another ministry. This might be ministry, construction or something else. To do these well takes endless planning, meetings before and after, as well as leaders willing to give up a week of their summer to be on call for the kids 24 hours a day. Typically for five days to two weeks. These again are vital and deeply rewarding but also exhausting beyond all measure.

Lastly, intangibles. My wife was asked to preach at our church on a Sunday morning for the first time ever this past August. She had been waiting and hoping for this opportunity for a long time and was beyond excited. She preached twice in a row to four different campuses, probably over 2,000 people altogether. She did amazing. But the work beforehand was intense. She wrote, edited, practiced, reedited, and practiced again. All the work paid off but this type of intangible and deeply intense spiritual labor is far more scary to me than perhaps any work I have done in my past.

This only scrapes the surface of the work my wife does but I did want to give a snapshot of what is asked of church staff today. It is good work and deeply rewarding but it is also difficult and all too often, unappreciated. One more thing too, and I wish I didn’t have to write it but is something that frankly needs to be acknowledged. There is a large segment of Christians who think women like my wife should not be leading in the roles she has. Our church has and continues to grow in support of women pastors, leaders and now elders. I’m deeply grateful for this for so many reasons. But to ignore the fact that some Christians don’t think my wife even deserves a seat at the table, just because she’s a woman, is something I cannot begin to imagine dealing with. She overcomes it every week she walks into the church offices.

All this to say, I’m deeply proud of my wife. I’m proud of her care for the kids she’s responsible for. I’m proud of how hard she has worked over the last seven years at our church. And I’m proud of her steady and unrelenting leadership in a place that too often says, implicitly and explicitly, you do not belong. I confess to not understanding all of this a few years ago but as I continue to grow I’m very grateful to be alongside with her.

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In Nothing, Something

The VMAs were this past Sunday, MTV’s ode to just about anything except music videos. This years show provoked a storm of commentary thanks to Twitter and its always-pushing-the-boundaries choice of performers. By most accounts this program was largely panned as the morally bankrupt extravaganza that it was. From Lady Gaga to Robin Thicke to Miley Cyrus there was surely little that could be redeemed from this epic failure of entertainment, right?

However I saw something while watching that I thought was important, was good,  and was in fact (at least partially) redeeming to the rest of the night. The pair of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis teamed up with Mary Lambert and Jennifer Hudson for a stirring rendition of their gay rights anthem “Same Love.”

For many Evangelical Christians this was the nail in the coffin for the evening; the last straw on a night that promoted far too much promiscuity and lewdness. Just another sign that the “gay agenda” has taken over our culture and our society, to the detriment of real, Bible-believing Christians.

This viewpoint, however genuine and sincere, is misplaced. “Same Love” is not an attack on the church, it is an appeal that the church can do so much better.

The line in the live performance that really resonated with me was something that was added in. Ms. Lambert and Ms. Hudson end the song by simply repeating back and forth to one another, “No more crying on Sunday.”

As Christians we talk about the gospel  as something filled with joy and hope and love. We talk about sin and death and sacrifice too of course but within all of that there is hope. Hope that Jesus does love us, did come to earth and did die on the cross. We preach that lives are eternally better when those lives live for God.

And yet even with all that hope and ministry and truth there is a tremendous blind spot for those who are LGBT individuals. For them Sunday is all too often not an oasis from the pain they received during the week from family, friends or others. In fact, Sunday is often the source of their agony, a huge blaring siren call that, in fact, they will never be good enough, they are irrevocably sinners, and so God cannot forgive them, or love them, or even bother to help them.

And so we have what you might expect. Gay teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. This is shocking, as it should be. But the real travesty is that the conservative evangelical church has not only ignored this problem but has now claimed persecution for themselves.

I realize many decent people are concerned about same-sex marriage. I realize that there are legitimate concerns about religious liberty and how it connects to gay rights.  But there needs to be a discussion backed up by solid steps to help these youth who are left with so little hope that they take their own lives. Preaching the gospel should lead to salvation, not suicide.

Macklemore’s song is a scathing indictment of the church’s treatment of LGBT people and youth up to this point. But I have hope that change can come not only from outside the church but from within. For this I am thankful.

Sundays

I don’t like Sundays.

I like church. It’s kind of funny. The one thing most people dread about the day I actually don’t mind. I like it for a whole list of reasons but that’s not why I am writing this entry. It is the rest of the day that stinks. 

Sunday. It’s the day you realize the weekend is over and the only thing you have to look forward to is…Monday. Jeez that stinks. When I lived in the Czech Republic Sunday afternoons were the hardest. A weekend of friends and/or travel was over and I returned to my little apartment in my little remote town and I usually just felt like dying a bit inside. Once my week started and I could distract myself with teaching and planning I was fine but Sunday afternoons…gosh…just awful.

Being back at home things have changed a lot but I still dread the week on Sunday afternoons a bit. But other things have changed too. Drastically. Let me explain.

Here was my typical Sunday a couple years ago. Church at 9:15 or 11. I go to a big church. It’s easy to walk in and out without talking to folks. I preferred this. Keeps life simple. I was out by 12:15 at the latest and home by 12:30. Cue nap, then running and then relaxing the rest of the day. Simple, uncomplicated. The way life should be.

Two years ago I started volunteering with my church’s middle school group as a small group leader. About a year ago I started dating one of the other leaders. Let me explain what happened this past Sunday.

Out of bed at 8:15am. I’m running late. I went to the middle school meeting at 9:15am. Over a 100 kids each Sunday and this week I did the main talk. Hooray for responsibility. 11am go to main church service (subject: True Sex. How racy!). Drove to my house at 12:30pm to pick up a cake that I had baked for middle school end of year staff party (I am a man who bakes delicious things from boxes. Deal with it.) Went to party from 1pm-3pm. Went home for precisely 15 minutes. By 4pm was on way to my girlfriend’s sister’s birthday dinner. Ate food till 6:30pm. Then went to see Star Trek at 7:30pm (IMAX 3D!) I was home by 10:30ish.

So yeah my Sundays have changed a little bit. I am not 100% sure how to process all these changes but I will say this: I’m not complaining.