I entered into 2019 with new hope and excitement for what was to come. I felt underwater for the last half of 2018 and for the first time I felt like I was coming up for a breath. Parenting and ministry was hard. Being single was hard. Having a child come from trauma was hard. Somehow after a trip to the passion conference and fresh perspective I had a plan. A plan for growth. Things were going to be better this year. And they were for about 6 weeks.
I remember one day still feeling like I was stuck. How can I grow if I am stuck? And in one simple text conversation my life would change. I didn’t even know that conversation, would be the catalyst for change until way later. So hearing about an opportunity I applied. I even went for an interview. Honestly, it was seeming so right. Then it happened. The conversation that at the moment I thought was the worst day of my life. I remember walking away feeling so hurt, so betrayed, so frustrated, so sad. Why? Why did this have to happen like this? But in the middle of the chaos God was leading me even more to take a jump. So I did and started on the new journey at this new position. Growth.
I never realized until this year how pain will grow you. This year has been painful. Like pruning branches that weren’t ready to be pruned. I jumped into a new community, a new job and a new church all in one. But it’s a strange feeling to be in one place while still living close to your old one. I felt like I was in two worlds, not fully in either. But yet, I persisted and through it growth.
Then the moment happen. The call that would change my world. My baby girl was heading home. I thought that February day sitting across from my friend was the worst day of my life. Nothing was as hard as this. Saying goodbye to my sweet baby girl was the most painful experience of my life. Even as I type the pain rushes back to my body and the feeling of losing her brings me to that moment. I didn’t know what to do. Pain. Growth. I persisted. I had my other foster daughter. I had to be strong for her and she would need me to. She would need me to walk her through the hardest moment of her life. And she didn’t even fully understand it. Pain. Growth. And then the time came to say goodbye to her. Once was hard. Twice was unbearable. This goodbye somehow was worst than the first because it would mean emptiness. When I came home it was quiet. I hate the quiet now. So so much pain. Growth. Learning about myself. Persisting through pain, that’s where real growth comes. And then as if there could be any more, I heard the news from my mom. A diagnosis. It didn’t look good. At least we had answers, but now we know there is no end to the pain she is feeling. There is no end to the struggle she is having. Why is this happening. Pain. Pain. Pain.
And yet, I persist. I grow. I learn more about myself. I learn more about God and his heart for me. He meets me in the pain. I had decided I wanted to grow in 2019. That was my word for the year. I’m not going to lie, I wish I would have picked a different word. But yet, that was the word I picked, I feel in so many ways that God looked at me and said.... I’ll show you growth and bam, forced me into it. Almost literally. There was no option for me but to grow this year. I had to, because I couldn’t be the same person and get through all I went through. I had to grow. I had to figure out how to continue through all the painful things that happened. Because through pain, we see growth, if we persist.
I was standing on the edge of the road looking down at the water. As I strolled the path, I felt the wind gusting through my hair. The sound of the ocean was roaring through my ears. As I sat down to look out and just embrace the moment, I had this thought; ”I just have to put my feet in.” That thought and feeling wouldn’t leave my body until almost instinctively I started heading for the shore. I’m not sure what made those thoughts come into me, maybe it was the wanting to wash away the last season of my life. The last season that broke me and rebuilt me all in one. I felt like I was a phoenix who rose from the ashes.
Before I started the journey I was a broken woman, just barely surviving. You see, I was in this journey to motherhood through unconventional means. In January of 2018 I became a foster mom. In February I got placed with the best little baby girl the world has ever known. For awhile I felt on top of the world. I was leading three ministries through transition, I was a mom for the first time and I honestly felt like I was rocking it all. Of course we know that things never stay that way. My church had decided that I was not the person they were looking for to continue to lead the ministries, so they started to look for someone else. They found that person and unfortunately, I felt a tension in that relationship. It wasn’t his fault and it wasn’t my fault, it was just the result of a bad situation overall. Shortly after that I got a call for a little toddler, in which that yes turned my next season into one of the hardest I have ever experienced. All of a sudden I was bearing the weight of disappointment and the feeling of being overwhelmed in a constant state.
Realizing I needed help, I heard about this Women In Leadership Cohort. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I realized I needed something. The trajectory I was going was not good for me or for the children I was caring for. So I signed up. That single moment changed everything for me.
I remember going into the first retreat just so broken. I wasn’t even sure the ladies would like me, heck I didn’t even like me at this point. I was stressed and overwhelmed and that was a baseline for my life. I remember people always saying “I’m not sure how you do it.” Meaning be a single parent and work full time. Truthfully, I’m not sure how I made it through those first months either. It was clearly Jesus and coffee, because there is no other way. Parenting is hard enough but parenting trauma is harder. Then factor in the fact that I was in a position at a church that I loved so much but just wasn’t happy anymore. It was a tough season. As April asked the hard questions, gave us room to search our souls, I began my wrestling stage. When I finally felt like I was just ready to give up, life shifted. A job opened that seemed like a dream and I began my crawl out of the space I was in. Parenting was getting easier and routine started.
By the time we got to the second retreat I was in a completely different place. Noticeably different. Even the other ladies could see the actual physical changes in me. Hope. I had hope. But I wasn’t done yet. I needed one more thing; forgiveness.
As my feet touched the water, I breathed in and out, thinking of the people, the hopes, the promises broken, that I needed to forgive. I felt the tinge of cold surge through my whole body, I felt alive. It was time to let go. Let go of it all. The journey was long and hard but it brought me to this place, this moment. The moment where I could look back and see the faithfulness of God. The point where I could let go of those hurts and decide to wash it away in the salty cold water. That in that moment, it was like I was letting Jesus Himself wash my feet and Him saying I am here, I love you, well done my faithful servant. Then as fast as it startedI, the moment was gone and I was on a plane back. But I will forever remember that moment. The moment I felt free.
Lock-ins... let's be honest, students love them, youth pastors hate them. If you are on any Youth Pastor Facebook group you will get many (funny) responses to "Ideas for a lock-in", most of these responses are "Don't" or GIFS that say "RUN". Maybe you are with me on this and you are that youth leader who HATES LOCK-INS. Well the good news is I am going to give you fuel for your fire. If you are one of those youth pastors who likes them.... well you probably are just starting out and may eventually understand.
So without further ado here are my top 10 reasons to stop doing a lock-in:
10. It breaks up the "we have to do what we have done before" routine.
Most of us may be doing lock-ins because the youth pastor from 5-10 years ago started doing them so that's just what you do. STOP THAT. Take time to evaluate what you are doing. Is this helping to accomplish the goals of your ministry? Is this successful in your context? Is this the best use of your time and your volunteers time?
9. It's hard to keep the level of excellence up for 10+ hours.
We all want an event to be successful and to have excellence. If you don't... well again that's another conversation for another day. But with an event that lasts for 10+ hours, it is hard for there to be excellence the whole time. We used to run lock-ins with 300+ students. LET ME TELL YOU that at 5am excellence went out the window, at that point it was all about keeping kids alive, out of trouble and not destroying the building.
8. No matter how "good" your students are....someone is making out somewhere.
We work with teenagers. By definition they are raging balls of hormones. Why do we set them up for failure to stay all night in a building with lots of crazy hiding spaces. No matter how many times you yell "No purple-ing" there is probably a couple somewhere doing something they are not supposed to be.
7. You don't really like lock-ins. Why do you keep doing things you don't like?
Now I know what you are going to say... I do lots of things I don't like to do, isn't that just apart of life? This doesn't have to be. Lock-ins are mentally and physically exhausting. Usually, it can take DAYS to recover from one. So why would you put yourself through that torture?
6. Lock-ins are time consuming with many times little reward for long term ministry.
I did lock-ins at my current position for 6 years before we stopped. They seemed successful. Students would come and we would have big crowds and it seemed great. What I realized is that long term they didn't really make a difference. Most students who came, never came to back to our church and we didn't see long term fruit from it. It was an event for event sake. Take a look at your last few lock-ins, was there an influx of students who came back to your ministry? Did you have long term gain from it?
5. It's harder to get non-church parents to let a student stay all night (especially if it's their first event at the church).
Most of the time lock-ins are meant to be a way for your students to reach other students. That can be an uphill battle if they have never been to church before and are wanting to stay ALL night at the church.... Parents who are not around the church are already skeptical about church and now you want their student to stay all night, with probably not enough super vision?
4. Lock-ins usually will not move your ministry forward.
This again goes back to the whole "your doing what you always done" mentality. What would really help your students move forward? What will help your students take next steps? Will staying up all night while doing a nerf gun tournament in the middle of the night really help? I mean maybe? But most likely there is better uses of your time and energy.
3. Lock-ins can become an insiders event quickly.
If your goal of your lock-in is to just build community with your students, then you probably could do it. BUT if you are wanting to build momentum or outreach, they can quickly become an insider event, rather than an outreach event.
2. VOLUNTEERS HATE LOCK-INS
In my experience you will have a great turn out for volunteers from 8p-1am. After that, only the barely legal volunteers will be there. Once we did a lock-in and 350+ students showed up! We had tons of volunteers until about 3am. At that point I'm pretty sure we had 10 volunteers in the building. A student jumped off the second story balcony and fell through a ceiling... It was not my best moment as a youth leader. That was the last lock-in we ever had.
1. There are better alternatives out there.
After that lock-in fiasco, we started to think about what we could do to have a greater impact, more volunteers and more reach. For us it led to The Big Party. A 3-4 hour event that had all the elements of a lock-in, with more volunteers. It was super successful. I'm not saying you have to do that, but I am saying is to take a deep look at what you are doing and see if there is an alternative event that would produce more fruit. Yes, students still asked for lock-ins but we just redirected them to our vision and why it no longer lined up with it.
So this is my list. Maybe you agree with it, maybe you don't. I would love to hear your thoughts and what you think I missed from this list as well. My hope is we would get out of the cycle of "what we have always done" and think deeply about the events we do and why we do them.
I remember years ago when the song Hosanna came out. It was a super popular song at my church and if you heard it you could understand why. Hosanna, which is a cry that means God save us. or a shout that means God has saved us. Either way it's a powerful word and a powerful song that is shouting the praise and the salvation that God has brought. In the song there is a line that says "Break my heart for what breaks yours". I remember as a 20 year old singing those lyrics with such passion that my voice gave out. I was crying that prayer out to God, but honestly I didn't ever really feel that broken heart. I mean in some since I did. I am passionate about middle school students knowing Jesus. I remember meeting kids in an orphanage and feeling like my heart was broken then. I remember my heart breaking when I heard stories of students. All these times my heart had broken... a little. But I never truly felt the heart break until yesterday. This was a whole different level that I had never experienced before. I was dropping my newest little foster love to kids church on Sunday. She's been with my three days. I found out that through some weird circumstances she has been in four homes before me. I can't even imagine this sweet girl is scared and confused heading to another strangers house. But she seemed okay. Then the drop off happened. As a normal three year old she starting crying when I left. What I didn't expect was the flood of emotion as I walked out of the room. I broke down. I was ugly crying in the middle of our kids area. I kept thinking about how she probably through I was leaving her, abandoning her again. Here she was with more strangers and the weight of all that she has been through came on me. My heart shattered. I was overcome with emotion and I couldn't control it. This was what it felt like for my heart to break. My heart to shatter. In that moment I felt what God felt for this little girl. I felt the weight of the breaking heart. I felt something I had never really felt before. God loves my girls more than I could ever imagine. His heart is broken more for them than mine ever could. He truly broke my heart so He could reveal his love for them. I will do my best to teach them to know Jesus as long as I have them and keep them safe so they know they are loved. Because they are truly so loved.
Lately I've been plagued with one of the most taboo subjects in ministry. Not taboo to be talked about but it's one that if you say you are struggling with it, you get those looks from people. The ones that say it all. "You must not trust God enough." "It's all in your head." "You seem fine to me." The truth is for the last few months I have been struggling with bouts of depression. Now I realize this is something many people may deal in with varying degrees and maybe like me it's a silent struggle or maybe for you it consumes your life. I am not sure where you are at, but I can tell you that for me, this is something I have been dealing with alone and in silence. Why? Where did this all start? Well right now our church is going through some huge changes. We recently opened a second campus, our youth ministries have been struggling since the opening of it and now our generation pastor is leaving to start a new church. While these things are awesome and I am excited for them, the stress of it all has left me with an unexplained gloom that followed me. It was like the rain cloud that wouldn't leave me. For awhile I was able to keep going, go through the motions and deal with it, until I couldn't anymore. It was all I could do to get through the week and sleep on my day off, forget all my problems and try to mentally prepare myself for the next week. Even in my time with God it was motions after motions. Distance seemed to be creeping in and all of a sudden I felt father away from God and more alone than I ever has been, all while still leading a large middle school ministry with 40+ leaders and volunteers. The truth is as horrifying as this sounds to maybe some of you, I have realized that through this struggle that I am not alone. Many other youth pastors and leaders feel the same. I have seen some statistics that say up to 70% of pastors struggle with depression. This is a real epidemic in the church and I feel like the reason why is because of silence. For way too long this subject has not been talked about and if it has it's always an issue that the people we lead are struggling with... never the leader. Depression and anxiety can effect anyone. Maybe like me, it's because of stress and transition. Maybe it's because of loneliness, as being a top leader can be lonely, or maybe it's another reason. Whatever the reason is, as "the big C" church, we need to do a better job at talking about the issue, offering support and not condemning people, but supporting them through it. So if you are like me and struggling I want to say I am here. I see you. I understand. I'm not a medical professional and I do not have the answers to what to do, but I do want you to know you are not alone.