From Luke's Inbox: Ministry in Public School

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I know you went to a public high school for the purpose of ministry. I feel called to do the same. Most people are heavily discouraging me from doing this. They say that homeschooled students who go to a public school for the purpose of ministry do not come out as close to God as they were, or are very far from God. Since you (I assume) have been in this situation before, I was wondering what advice you could give.

Wow, what a powerful question. I will do my best to give you the most honest and complete answer I can. But since I'm sure I won't address everything here, I am happy to continue this dialog as long as you would like.

It sounds like you've read a few of my blog posts about my reasons for going to public school. I have written again and again about my experience with ministry in public school... and, I'm sure, I'll write more in the years to come <smile>.

At the same time, the more I reflect on my high school experiences, the more I recognize the need to caution people against jumping into that crazy, really difficult world.

Before I go any further with this answer, I urge you to read these two articles I wrote for Heart of the Matter:

Desires of Our Heart
Do Hard Things: Keep Quiet

The experiences I relate in those two articles are the foundation for what I say next.

I believe going to public school for the purpose of ministry is a wonderfully horrible thing.

Ministry is hard. It's even harder when you're "doin' it wrong." As I mention in the posts above, my "ministry" was too often based on seeking to "save" people, rather than share the love of Christ and actually, you know, minister to people. I believed that my job was to change my school by getting people to follow Christ and accept His salvation. This was wrong. I've come to realize that I should have ministered to people because God loves them. I should have sought to introduce them to Christ by being like Him. It's the job of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and draw people to God. The best I can do is seek to love as Christ loves. When people see Christ, they can make the choice to follow Him or not. When people see a half-crazed, passionate religious fanatic--me--they don't think about Christ at all. How sad that my passionate efforts were so misplaced. I believed I was loving people by trying to get Jesus into their face. In reality, I was too often a "clanging gong" because I was more interested in my "ministry" and missed the opportunity to love others.

Did I leave high school close to God because of my desire to minister?

Yes. And no.

I believe that every ministry experience (no matter how "right" you do it) is incredibly difficult. Think back to the many Missionary Biographies you've read through Sonlight: Ministry is hard! It beats you up and tears you down. It crushes us and so clearly demonstrates our desperate need for the grace of God in our lives. And, often, there are long periods where we have no idea what God is up to.

I am so glad I went to a Christian University after high school. I had the opportunity to confront the really hard questions: Why doesn't God save people, when He clearly wants to? What is our responsibility in ministry? Does God use sinners? To what degree do we negatively and positively affect others? What does it mean to love people? And why do people keep talking about God using those who are "available" when that so often amounts to a hill of beans?

I wasn't far from God when I graduated from high school. But I was furious with Him. I was devastated and enraged. I certainly wasn't close to Him. I was wrestling with the "problem of pain" from a radically Christian perspective, and it was killing me.

Am I now closer to God because of my experience? Absolutely.
Am I now more like Christ because of my experience? By the grace of God.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Was it one of the hardest, most painful, potentially-drive-me-away-from-God experiences of my life? You betcha.

And, I argue: To be effective ambassadors for Christ, we must walk these paths. These are the things that allow God to make us into the people He wants us to be.

My advice (as of this moment, which I'm sure will develop and change as I grow in wisdom):

  1. Make your ministry about loving people as Christ loves them, not about converting souls.
  2. Expect to have your world rocked. The ideals of a Christian life aren't nearly as neat and tidy as we'd like.
  3. Throw yourself on the mercy and grace of God through the good and terrible. There's a ton of Scripture about this, but it's easy to forget when it feels like God has forgotten you.
  4. God is a redemptive God, and He can use even the devastation of failure for His glory. And I am happy to chat with you at any point before, during, or after high school about your experiences and your questions as I've begun to recognize God's redemptive work in this area of my life.

Ultimately, this is something that your parents will need to walk with you through as well. Definitely talk with them about this--and feel free to have them shoot me questions as well. I believe high school is a great opportunity for growing in ministry, but it is also incredibly hard.

Enough rambling for now.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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