The Aha Moment: When Ministry Became About Me
A little over 20 years ago, my husband and I moved to the country where we could raise our two daughters at a slower pace. We bought 10 acres of land, got 3 goats and 3 pigs, boarded one horse, had a huge garden, hunted, and began to home schooled.
This was a major change from city living, working full time, and sending our oldest to Catholic school.
This move was also symbolic in nature as it coincided with my internal conversion of faith. I had a powerful experience at a Steubenville Summer Conference which led me to fall in love with Jesus Christ. My faith was starting to develop at a rapid pace and I was eager to get involved in the new parish that we registered with when we moved.
About 2 years after moving to the small town, the pastor asked me to be the of Director for Religious Education and I was happy to do so. It got my girls and I out of the house, helped change up our daily routine, and gave us a way to give back to the church.
Another few years went by and our oldest daughter went away to college. Our youngest was becoming a middle schooler and I wanted something more from the Church to help her develop in her walk with Jesus. But, we didn’t have a youth ministry program other than the traditional Sunday school model of religious education. So, I started one.
It took some time to get traction, but after 2 or 3 years we had a solid program with kids of all ages attending regularly; even non-Catholic kids were joining.
Our program was vibrant. We went everywhere and made sure our kids had lots of different opportunities and experiences. They participated in diocesan and national events, attended leadership camps and retreats, and even helped to start a Vacation Bible School for the parish and community.
Great things were happening and the fruit was evident. Several of our young people went on to help at the diocesan level, and in national ministries. We even had 4 non-Catholic kids come into the Church. Our little parish was really on fire, and that included our Confirmation program.
One year, when I was doing double duty and teaching Confirmation, the entire class attended a powerful retreat called TEC. It was life changing for them… and for me too: a member of that class asked me to be their sponsor!
I was so honored that this person thought of me as a mentor and invited me to be an integral part of their faith journey. I was humbled, full of joy, and excited for this opportunity which I knew would deepen my own faith.
Not long after this invitation, some parents and I took our youth group to a praise & worship rally outside of our diocese in another state. We wouldn’t be traveling alone; another youth group from the city was going and we would meet them at the event. Their leader and I had worked together on several other projects. This person was a friend and mentor.
Once we made it to the venue and got everyone settled, the other leader and I had a few moments to talk and catch up before the event got started.
I was so excited to share the news that I had been asked to be a Confirmation sponsor.
But, when I told the leader, they blurted out: “Kath — you’ve been at this how long and this is your first? I’m going to be the sponsor for 4 kids this year and it’s still early! ”
They quickly followed with affirmations of how awesome it was that I had been asked, and that I’d make a great sponsor.
We had to quickly part ways because the event was starting. But, as the prayers and music began, I had a difficult time focusing. All I could think of were the words of the other leader.
That 3 minute exchange produced a shift in my heart that I wouldn’t realize until, literally, about week before typing this entry.
Prior to our short conversation my heart was overflowing with joyful anticipation for the journey I was about to take with this confirmation student. But it only took a moment for seeds to be sown so deep in my heart that I’m just now discovering them. These were seeds of envy and doubt, competition and ambition.
The rest of the evening I spent wondering….
- “What was wrong with me that only one student asked me to be their sponsor?”
- “What was lacking in my personality and presence that I had only one student and he had 4 (in this year alone)?”
- “What am I doing wrong that more kids hadn’t approached me to mentor them?
And then, something clicked (or more accurately, broke). My mind raced:
- “I have to be better, funnier, cooler, be more like the other leader.”
- “I have to offer more events, programs, and ways to interact with the kids like the other leader.”
- “I have to do more for the kids, be more available; I have to do what the other leader does.”
I took something so beautiful and twisted it into something so selfish.
Realistically, that’s the “Monday Morning Quarterback” view.
The truth is, I did add more options for our youth programs. I made myself more available. I took the kids to more events. Our programming became more robust, which was a good thing.
So, if it was so good, why would I now call it selfish?
Because I made it about me and not about God. Of course, I would say that I did all these things to bring our kids into a relationship with God and at the time I meant it. It was evident that God blessed these things because they did bear fruit.
But… God did that because He is bigger than my sin. He is greater than my selfishness. God works greatness in spite of our weakness.
I’m a person who enjoys affirmation. Really, who doesn’t? I try to hide it and say that I’m just doing God’s work. But in reality, deep, deep down, I get those warm and fuzzys when someone tells me that I’m doing a good job. The affirmations empower me to want to do more, to be more. Truth be told, they feed my ego and fuel my ambition.
And, that my friends, is where things go wrong.
When our focus is on our own ambition and not on God.
It’s a difficult thing to gauge because many of us truly believe that our motivations are honorable and holy. It’s only been by stepping away from ministry and working with an amazing spiritual director that these things have brought to light. My heart is heavy with these realizations, but I’m now able to give the past to the Lord and praise Him for working through my selfishness. I’m able to confess the sin of pride, false humility, and and be made new, and share what I’ve learned with others.
My prayer is that all of God’s ministers, lay, religious, and ordained, may take time for serious self-reflection and make adjustments to our hearts when necessary.
In doing so, we can truly lead our young church into a relationship with Christ knowing that our intentions are pure and our humility is real.
Please pray for me as I pray for you!