Why I’m not blogging today

I started this blog a few years ago.  Every once in a while, I’ll look back through the “archives” just to see what I thought, lived, and wrote about.  Feel free to do the same.  If you do, you’ll get to know me better.

Through the years of blogging, I’ve had one major ache: not being consistent in how regularly I write.  It’s definitely not daily, its rarely weekly, and heck–sometimes it falls to monthly.  Lame.  Really lame, I know.

And today is another day that I’m not blogging.  Well, actually I TRIED to write a blog post and its still sitting there, undone in my “drafts” folder but for whatever reason, it just felt too contrived, or forced, or missing that certain something any blog post of mine has to have before I click “Publish”.

So, here I am, NOT blogging again.  If you’re not me (and I’m guessing you’re not), you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Why can’t Varner get it together and just make it a habit. Geez, set an alarm. Stick up a post-it note to remind yourself. Do something to remind yourself, Lame-o.”  Well, of all the reasons I haven’t blogged, forgetting to doesn’t even rank on the list.  The truth is I’m very often thinking about writing.  So, why doesn’t that translate into blog posts that are more than bi-weekly, weekly, or dare I say it–daily?!?  Let me take a stab at some guesses as to why that is:

1. As I alluded to, I need to “feel” like I’ve got something quality to convey (even if its just to myself, as weird as that sounds).  I think this comes from reading too many blogs that are just plain boring.  If it feels like I’m trying too hard, I’ll click “Save Draft” and shut it down.  I currently have a long list (28) of half-baked blog posts just sitting in that draft folder.  And that’s likely where they’ll stay…and die.

2. Very often it happens that I’ll have what I think is a great idea for a post, or a situation I live through that lends itself to being written about.  But by the time I get to my computer, either the thought is gone or I’ve lost some critical piece of it that keeps me from making it work.

3. I often psyche myself out.  Let me share something with you. I’m a guy who’s susceptible to “head games”.  I can lay in my bed in the middle of the night and out-of-the-blue start to feel ill.  Just as quickly as that happens I can take my thoughts out of that line of thinking and feel much better.  How does that relate to blogging?  I don’t know, but the fact remains that I can sit down at a keyboard with every intention of rolling out a blog post, and then sit and stare at the screen.  It just happened again.  See what I mean?  Probably not.

Well, I hope to blog again soon.  But if it ends up being longer than you’d like to wait, may I suggest that you simply subscribe to my blog?  That way, whenever I do post, you’ll be notified.  Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?

Thanks for coming by, but I’m sorry to say that there just won’t be a blog post today.

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Adopted.

This past Christmas season, I traveled with my family to Joplin, Missouri to visit my wife’s family; her sister, her sister’s husband, their 2 young girls, and her parents.  To say that I love “her side” of the family would be a gross understatement.  I am so blessed with the in-laws that I have.  In fact, I can’t think of anyone I know with a better relationship with their in-laws than I have.

While we were there, we spent hours together just talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  One afternoon, we went out to lunch together–the whole crew of us, all 12.  Toward the end of lunch the younger kids were done and since the restaurant was practically empty besides us, they felt comfortable to get out of the chairs and stroll around our long table, stopping to chat with others.  My youngest daughter Macy was near the head of the table talking to Aunt Markelle, my wife’s sister.

Markelle is approaching her 6th year of battling stage 4 colon cancer which has since spread to her abdomen and lungs.  To look at her, you’d never know it.  She’s a gorgeous young woman–vibrant and alive.  More than 6 years ago, however Markelle and her husband Chris decided to adopt a beautiful girl from Taiwan and I became the proud uncle of the one-in-a-gazillion “Cate”.  Cate was standing next to Macy as Macy talked to Aunt Markelle in that restaurant that day.  Macy asked, “Aunt Markelle, is Cate adopted?”

Okay, have you ever seen one of those paper towel commercials where some kid causes some huge messy spill and they somehow freeze frame the spill while it’s still in the air?  My immediate thought was, “Oh crap, I have no idea what Markelle and Chris have told Cate about being adopted!!!”  To my relief, Markelle said calmly and matter-of-fact to Macy, “Yes, Cate is adopted.”  And by the look on Cate’s face at that moment, this was “old news” to her by now.

But that instance and several others since then have compelled me to really dwell on the issue of adoption.  Adoption is something talked about in the Bible.  It is the very illustration that God chose to use to make clear to us the “transaction” of Him purchasing us for Himself, and bringing us into His family.  As adopted sons and daughters, we are rightfully privileged as “heirs with Christ”.  We are spiritually and “legally” endowed with the same blessings that God the Father places on God the Son.  Take a good long look at Romans 8, beginning in verse 15 (I’m going to type each word, rather than copy and paste them because I need to soak in them again…):

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s spirit when he ADOPTED you as his own children. Now we call him ‘Abba, Father.’  For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs to God’s glory.”

This truth cannot be understated.  It cannot be considered too little.  It cannot be studied too closely.  This truth in these 3 verses sum up our position as adopted children of God.  Just as Chris and Markelle CHOSE to begin the adoption process through mounds of paperwork, CHOSE to spare no expense, CHOSE to fly to Taiwan, CHOSE to take that precious child into their arms, their care, their home, and their family….so God CHOSE to lavish His love upon humanity.  God CHOSE to spare no expense–not even the life of His only Son–to purchase me into His family.  Everything that belongs to a member of God’s family now belongs to me.  Every blessing bestowed on a child of God is now bestowed on me.  Every peace, every security, every bit of love given to any one person adopted by God is given to me.  Now I have it.  Now it is mine.  Now I am His.  Now HE is mine.  He is my parent.  I am His son.  I’m not “kinda” His child.  I am HIS fully.  Neither Chris nor Markelle has ever, is now, or will ever feel anything but complete love and total care for Cate.  Cate is not “kinda” anything.  She is FULLY family.  Everything that is theirs is hers.  Every privilege, every blessing, every part of what it means to be in their family is hers to the fullest.  And I suspect that as Cates grows older, she will understand even more of just how perfect a picture her life is of what God has done for her, for me, and for anyone who receives His invitation to come.

My wife and I are currently reading through “Choosing To See” by Mary Beth Chapman.  She is the wife of the well-known and loved Steven Curtis Chapman, the Christian music artist.  I’ve been a huge fan of his music ever since my youth and it’s awesome to read the story “behind the music” and what was going on at home while I enjoyed tune after tune of his.  Let me pause here and urge you to purchase this book and read it.  What…a…blessing.

The other day Merritt and I were sitting at the kitchen table, reading another chapter aloud to each other.  It was my turn to read and I was reading the story of when Steven Curtis, Mary Beth, and their 3 biological children traveled to China and first met and held their first adopted daughter, Shaohannah.  I read the details of the unfathomable love and instant transformation that came over Mary Beth in the simple act of taking into her arms this precious child, now HERS.  I was just overcome with emotion as I read Mary Beth’s new connection in her spirit as she understood in a new and profound way just how God looks at her.  And even as a parent who has not adopted, I can look at my own kids and get a taste for the incomprehensible love of God for me and for you and for all.  There I was, sitting at my kitchen table with tears rolling down my cheeks at the mind-blowing love of the Father for me.

What have I in the world to say to God but “Yes!” and “I’m all yours!” and “Take me into your family!” and “I don’t know why you want me, but I’m so glad you do!” Just like at that lunch table with my family, I can imagine an angel in heaven asking God the Father, “Hey God, is Jerry adopted?”  And with a smile God replies, “Yes.  Yes he is.”

The power to stay

After 16 years in fulltime ministry to students, I can still hear my professor-turned-friend-turned-ministry-partner-but-still-friend Dr. Len Kageler say, “Make every effort to stay at your current ministry position longer than you stayed at your previous ministry position.”  Through all the lectures in youth ministry class at Nyack College, and even through all those casual conversations, it was obvious that Len had (and has) a heart for longevity in youth ministry.  And he was more than successful in instilling that same passion within me.

I’ve been more than “fortunate” in the ministry positions I have held to date.  Since my graduation from Nyack College in 1995, I am currently in only my 3rd position.  My first position in Winchester, VA was 2 years and 1 month, start to finish.  Quick, but I packed a lot of learning in.  And heck, 25 months is still a chunk over the national average for length of stay for youth pastors, which is an 18-month stay.  My second ministry position was in Nyack, NY.  I stayed there from July of 1997 to August of 2004.  For all you non-pencil-pushers out there, that’s over 7 years.  Not too shabby.  And at this writing, I am less than a year away from being at my current position longer than I was at my previous position–a dream come true for both me and my beloved Len.

But as I stare down this milestone, I have to look back and take stock in just what makes a youth pastor last at any given position.  Now, I know there are a lot of “yeah, but’s” that youth pastors could spew at me, and some rightfully so.  But I’m not going to get into all the external factors that often bring about the conclusion of a youth pastor’s stay; those things we can’t control.  I’m going to instead focus on the internal factors–the things I/we DO have control over–that help me stay where I am longer than where I’ve been.

First, I’ve gotten over the fact that I’m never going to do it all. When I started in youth ministry I had the proverbial cape on my back and chip on my shoulder, thinking that I was God’s answer to youth ministry as it had been.  I hit the scene kickin’ down doors and eradicating every existing notion that “Chubby Bunny” was ever a good idea.  However, my first ministry position taught me that I’m not impervious to being damaged in ministry.  So the principle here would be to “get over yourself” as quickly as possible.  Know who you are and be that person.  After all, we only need one Jesus.

Secondly, I’d say that striving for excellence in every area is a non-stop journey.  As I’m sitting here typing I can think of how things I’m currently doing in ministry could be done differently or even–gasp–better than they’re being done.  I truly desire everything I do in ministry to be dripping with excellence.  I fall woefully short of that mark many times, but the desire is still there and that desire drives me every day I hold this position.

Next, I would fly the flag of rest.  There will be some weeks that seem endless due to the overwhelming needs that surround you as a youth pastor.  But if I don’t keep an eye on my disciple of rest, I’m not going to last very long at all; not at this church or at any church.  Leading from a rested spirit is essential to long-term effectiveness in student ministry. There have been many times that I’ve counseled fellow youth leaders with this advice: “Ministry is a lot like working on an assembly line. There will never be an end to the work coming your way.  You have to have the guts to simply step away from the line for a while.”  Inevitably, I get the response, “But what about what doesn’t get done?!?”  And I say “Yep.”  If we base our schedule on what needs to get done in ministry, nothing will…at least not for long. Rest is vital in youth ministry.  Unapologetically disconnect from your office, from your task list, from your students, and from your expectations.  Any senior pastor who tells you differently should be a senior pastor you leave in your rearview mirror.

The next principle is to cultivate the ability to be flexible. A couple years into my ministry here at my current church, I boldly told the Executive Pastor, “I could be the last youth pastor you hire.”  I wasn’t trying to be cocky, and I definitely wasn’t trying to be God.  It’s just that I made a conscious decision early in ministry that I would be willing to do what the ministry called for.  Anything less is a “Yes, but…” to God.  I’m committed to skill development, character growth, continual education, and any maturing that needs to take place in me so that I can be the youth pastor this church needs. There may come a day when–despite my greatest attempts–it becomes clear that God is done with me here, but until that day comes you better believe that I’m committed to doing what the ministry here calls for.

(I should have mentioned that this list would be in random order, as evidenced by the next thing I’d like to share.  It would definitely have been placed near the top of the list!)

One of the most critical principles I can give to my fellow married youth pastors is to constantly date your spouse. Flirt, woo, romance the pants off the helpmate God has blessed you with.  Not only is that some of the most fun you can have as a human being, but it will safeguard your marriage and ministry in ways you’ll never fully know.  As much as you can help it, never let your spouse feel like they’re in competition with your ministry.  There are obviously times when you must be away at conferences, on mission trips, for speaking engagements, etc. but those times are more than bearable when you have a spouse who already knows that all you want to do is get back home to be with them.  In my own ministry, I’ve had more students and other adults make comments on my marriage than on any message I’ve delivered or event I led.  Everyone who cares to look knows that I am 1000% head-over-heels crazy about my wife.  No joke, I’m one of the happiest married men you know. There’s simply no way around this truth: The investment of your marriage will spill over positively into your ministry and the people you’re called to lead.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the other way around.

This next one is one that I’m just now coming to grips with.  I’ll put it this way: “Look for the blessings more than the bookings.” For many of the years I’ve been in ministry, I’ve had a bit of an ache in the back of my mind.  It’s something I don’t readily share with many people (yes, I know this is a blog on the internet).  It’s the idea that the farther into ministry I go, and the more “successful” I become at it, the more invitations I should receive; invitations to come and speak, to write, to share advice, to take a stage, to be more “known.”  And while there is more to divulge than that, I’ll suffice it to say that God has shown me that He is much more interested in His fame than He is in mine. Years ago I gave a gift to my Mom.  It was a potted plant that said on it, “Bloom where you’re planted.”  I have to admit that I’ve been guilty at times of thinking grass was greener somewhere else.  Well, it’s often the case that the grass is greener because of all the “fertilizer” over there!  Be thankful for where you are, welcome opportunities for God to expand your influence, but be so careful about prying doors of notoriety open.

Next, you need to remember that nothing will do for you what humility will. Now, humility is like a wet, slippery bar of soap.  Once you say you have it, you don’t.  Humility isn’t something you put on a resume.  It isn’t something you decide for yourself, and it isn’t something that comes naturally to most people.  But if you want to stick around longer than the church van, you’d be wise to seek a heart of humility.  It’s been said that “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less.”  Humility will be the stabilizer that keeps you from bitterness, from resentment, from defensiveness toward criticism, and from many other ills the enemy wants for your ministry.  Humility begins with a deep heart recognition that God is God, God is the potter, and you are the clay.  It’s not cliche’, its Scripture (Is. 64:8).

Finally, and really the greatest piece of advice for youth leaders who want to stick around is this: Don’t teach theory. Lead from who you are, where you are, and from an authentic spirit.  Get in, be in, and stay in love with Jesus your Savior.  Don’t let anything come between you and Him.  Let people see that you’re not leading/teaching/preaching from a textbook or from some idea book; let them see you walking hand-in-hand with Jesus Christ, the love of your life.  From that relationship will flow every resource and supply you’ll ever need, no matter where you find yourself in ministry.

Whether you’ve been in youth ministry for half a century or half a day, I pray that these few tidbits might spark a desire within you to, God-willing, send down your roots right where you’re at and stay put for a long, fruitful ministry.