Why I gave up a six-figure salary to be a Youth Pastor
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In the spring of 2007, I finally saw the end in sight.
I had worked so hard my entire life, and as the semester came to a close, I began to realize that I was going to do it. I was going to graduate from high school, and I was going to be the valedictorian. Before finals even came around, I was working on my speech (which turned out to be horrible). I couldn’t tell you what I said today, but I can tell you that I chose to focus not on the end, but on the new beginnings in front of us. Yes, high school had come to an end and we were all scared, but we were all bright and young, with so much to look forward to, etc., etc., etc.
Even though speeches and advice like this is sort of cliché, it’s so easy to get to the end of something and wonder, where do I go now? So we sort of pick up our bags, look left, look right, and choose which side of the fork to walk down as we keep going through life.
But what happens when God challenges you to pick a different path?
I took that path that led to college. Being a clueless freshman in college, I could have pretty much picked a major out of a hat, but I decided to go with petroleum engineering – let’s be honest, they made the most money. I did well; I enjoyed it; I loved the challenge.
During my first year of school, my old youth pastor gave me a call and asked if I would come be a summer intern, working with him at a local church. I always had a blast in youth and it sounded like an easy job, so I said sure, why not? It was in that moment that God really began to work on my heart. I worked the internship and had a blast. So much so, that I did it again the next year. After two years as a youth ministry intern, I got an internship working for an oil and gas operator in East Texas. I really loved the challenges that came with the oil field – and again, the pay didn’t hurt.
I continued my education, thinking nothing of ministry or what God was doing in my life. I was a good person and didn’t do anything too horrible, but seeking God was definitely secondary. And doors continued to open for me, the company extended an offer for a second internship in their corporate headquarters! The next year passed, and I started my summer internship once again. But I was beginning to feel like God was challenging me to do a few things.
One of those things was this idea of going into ministry. Another was to read through the four gospels. And a story that kept popping up was this story of the rich young ruler. The gist of the story is this: this rich guy walks up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to get to heaven. Jesus says to follow all of the commandments. The rich guy (I was beginning to see that this might be me) says okay, and starts to walk away. Then Jesus tells the man (that’s me) to sell all of the things he has and to follow him. At this point, the rich man walked away with his head down, because he had amassed so much stuff, and he couldn’t bear to give it up.
I realized that I was getting to that point.
I was becoming this person that God was calling into ministry, but felt like I was being weighed down, because I couldn’t stand the idea of giving up the plans that I had set in motion, or the thing that I would one day be able to have. I continued working that summer, and even got the chance to take part on a mission trip in Oklahoma City. It was just a few blocks away from where I was working – I literally got to live for a week at that fork in the road between where I wanted to go after graduation, and where God was calling me.
Eventually, I took the leap. I began researching, visiting, and applying to seminary. I thought all of this would quench that fire starting to blaze inside me, so that I could go back to my real life.
Meanwhile, I got a call from the oil and gas company I had worked for the past two years. They offered me a full time position after I graduated, with a starting salary that no fresh college graduate deserves. I was finally on my way. My goals were within reach!
A few weeks later, though, I got a call from a lovely woman at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. She said that I had been accepted and that I was being offered a full scholarship. At that point, I just had to laugh. My final justification for not listening to God had been money. I didn’t want to have to go into debt. I tried rationalizing with myself, promising that I would just work for a few years, to save up and then go to seminary. But now, I was all out of excuses.
I had reached a fork in the road, and it was time to grab my bags, look left, look right, and hope God was leading me down the right path.
I was scared, but I had so much to look forward to. God has given me such a passion for working with high school students. I love how raw their faith is, and how unabashedly they ask questions and dissect the things that are preached. They yearn to know more and seek explanation as they develop a personal relationship with Christ.
People have gifts and passions for so many different things. And while I don’t think that money is evil – people have been doing amazing things with it for a long time - my big problem was that it became the heart of what I was seeking. My priorities were completely mixed up, and I got a harsh reality check. I once heard it said that God doesn’t always want what’s in your hand; God just wants to see if you’re willing to give it up. In my case, God asked me to give up the thing I was holding onto, in order to follow the real passion in my life.
As much as it scares me, even to this day, I’ve found so much comfort in entering into this crazy life of ministry. I’d be lying if I say that my worries have just disappeared, but I am constantly reminded that I can find comfort in God. After giving up my own plans for my life, God led me to my true passion. He also helped me find (and marry) the woman of my dreams, and gave me the amazing opportunity to work at HPUMC. I love being surrounded by amazing people who love what they do. I love having the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of countless students by sharing the gospel of Christ with them. I love having the opportunity to share my story with people, and giving them the courage to pay attention to God’s subtle nudges, because chances are, the plan God has for your life is likely far better than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.