In high school, I was given the opportunity to serve as a peer leader in my youth group. This meant that while I was still a ‘youth’ myself, I was given various responsibilities within the scope of the rather large youth group to which I belonged that would help me to develop valuable leadership qualities. Looking back, ever since I was a child, I had a knack for ministry. Pastors would pray and prophesy over me, even when I was in elementary school, and countless adults told me I was going to be a pastor someday. ‘Working for the Lord’, as it were, became ingrained into who I was; into my very identity.
As I went into college, experienced a great crisis of faith (more on that later… not in this post, but later), and was introduced to the riches of the Catholic Church, I was plunged right back into ministry after having only skipped a beat or two. While going through RCIA on Wednesdays, I was leading a Confirmation small group on Sundays. A few months after being received into the Catholic Church, I was offered the role of youth minister in a rural parish nearby. Six years later, I’m still actively serving in youth ministry.
And I’ve got to tell you: I’m totally burnt out.
Those are the buzzwords that no lay person in ministry would ever dare to say out loud. To be ‘burnt out’ can often feel like an admission of defeat. In reality, I’ve been burning the candlewick at both ends for quite some time. Being in full-time ministry takes its toll on a family, and if you aren’t taking time to reinvest in yourself, ministry can do great harm to your family. I recently heard an itinerant ministry worker open up about a “cat’s in the cradle” moment they experienced when their, teenaged-turned-young adult, child hit some milestone in life. I can’t quite recall the specifics at this time, but I imagine this is a common experience among lay ministry workers. To spend so much time away ministering at retreats, conferences, camps, etc. is taxing.
I’ve gotten tired of telling my kids, “Daddy has to go to work, be back in a week.”
This ministry thing is, however, a double edged sword. While taking its toll on your family life, unless you’ve hit that jackpot where you get to do ministry with your family, ministry is probably one of the most rewarding ways to make ends meet this side of heaven. Playing some small, often forgettable, albeit vital role in bring Jesus to someone is its own treasure. Ministry, God willing, is what I’ll probably spend the rest of my life doing.
The key is to strike a balance. A person’s primary vocation must be just that: primary. If you are married with one or more kids, they are your primary ministry. Expecting a kid? Your ministry is about to grow. And this isn’t just some symbolic adage, or well-meaning sentiment. I am literally communicating to you that if you are spending more time ministering to others than to your own family, or whomever God has entrusted to your care, something is out of balance.
Wait… I seem to have stepped onto a soap box. Let me just push that aside. My apologies…
Okay. What I am trying to say here is that I am stepping away from youth ministry. For the foreseeable future, I will not be employed by a parish or diocese. A week ago, I turned in my two weeks’ notice. Friday is my last day.
This decision has been in the works for quite some time. The leading cause for this particular, planned career break is economically motivated above all else. And yes, I am leaving on great terms with my current employer. Rachel, my wife for those of you who don’t know, will actually be diving headfirst into full-time teaching at an early childhood center in connection with a local parochial school. As for me? I will be trying out the ‘stay-at-home dad’ role for a while as I move into my final semester of graduate school. Wrapping up this degree, which has been three years in the making, will be no joke as I plan to give an account for all that I’ve learned up to this point. Prayerfully, this December you may begin referring to me as Master Robert.
Throughout this entire time of transition my family and I have enjoyed great peace. We have no second guesses about this move, and while it might not make a great deal of sense to everyone, it is the best move for us right now. We’re no stranger to making the appropriate financial sacrifices; in fact, we’ve got it down to a science at this point.
We’re happy, and if that is your concern for us upon hearing this news, please remember: we. are. happy.
For now, I plan to get involved in a few ministry initiatives happening at home in the Diocese of Lake Charles as a volunteer. I think volunteering in ministry will help to rediscover a love for ministry that I have let slip away in recent memory. Getting involved in my home parish and other opportunities for the love of it, and not because it is tied to any material compensation will serve to rejuvenate and revive, within me, a healthy relationship with ministry.
It is with great sadness that many of my coworkers in the vineyard, across the border in Texas, will not be a part of my daily life anymore. I must say those Texans are the salt of the earth (Texjoy-brand salt, to be more specific); they are some of the most humble, and holy people I’ve ever gotten to do ministry, and life, with, and I will certainly won’t be a stranger ‘round those parts.
And if you’re still reading… I plan to get back to another great love of mine: writing. If nothing else, you’ll be able to keep in touch with me and my ramblings through this blog and other great outlets in the very near future.
Pray for my family as we pray for all of you.