My New Beginning

The summer has ended. Tallahassee has once again been taken over by throngs of college students. Monday, August 25 was the first day of classes at FSU for the fall 2008 semester. I’m amazed at how much can change in a year. Last year at this time I was beginning my first year on staff with the FSU Navigators. I have intentionally kept quiet on my blog about my plans for this fall and beyond, but I’m finally ready to start talking.

Professional Changes

The biggest change revolves around how I make my living. For the past year I’ve been working two part-time jobs, one for the FSU Navigators as a campus minister and one for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) as a data entry specialist. But at the end of August, after prayerful consideration, I changed my staff designation with The Navigators. I have been Entity Staff, which is a part-time salaried position. Starting on September 1 I became Associate Staff, which is a volunteer position. I will still be raising some financial support (more on that later) but The Navigators will no longer be paying me a salary. While I plan to stay involved in a couple of areas, I won’t be a part of the day-to-day operations of the ministry as I was this past year.

The last week of August I resumed working full-time at the DOEA. It’s the same position I’ve had there since I started working there in 2006. However, my last day there will be Friday, September 26. The following Monday will be my first day of work at the FSU College of Business. (I’ll talk more about this new job in a future post.)

So, what prompted this change? There isn’t a quick and easy answer to that question, so I’m going to do the best I can to answer the question thoroughly. Last year when I made the decision to take a paid position with The Navigators it was filled with conditions. After talking it through, I agreed with Dave Wirgau, the head Navigator staff member at FSU, that if I chose to take a full-time position with the ministry it should be at a campus other than FSU (in order to receive training from a staff member other than the one who trained me while I was a student). However, I had no desire to leave Tallahassee. Working for the Navs part-time was the only way to have it both ways. This part-time option was really only available to me for one year, and after that I’d have to choose between becoming Associate Staff or go full-time at another campus (or leave Nav staff altogether).

My primary reason for going on paid staff with The Navigators was that, during my first year after college, I didn’t have enough time each day to do all the things I was trying to do. I was working forty hours each week, trying to have a ministry impact on campus, attempting to become a better writer, and growing a network of relationships with peers and those who could help guide me in my twenties. That’s a lot! My thought was that if I could combine two things it might make my life a little easier. The most accessible option was to combine my job with my ministry, so I became a campus minister with The Navigators.

But it didn’t quite work out the way I envisioned it would. First, I believed that becoming a part-time campus minister would mean I’d be able to give most of my time on the job to interacting with students. But it turned out that much of that time was spent working with the staff team, maintaining the week-to-week operation of the ministry, communicating with donors or doing administrative work. Aside from the admin work, these responsibilities were truly enjoyable, but this wasn’t how I envisioned spending the bulk of my time.

Second, I found out the hard way that a part-time campus minister is part-time in name only. It’s a far greater time commitment, and it’s at all sorts of different times of day. Rather than working the twenty weekly hours I’d signed up for, I was typically working at least thirty hours each week for The Navigators, along with the twenty I was still working at DOEA. Beyond that, I was living with two Navigator co-workers and living next door to three more. I really enjoyed the relationships that I developed with my teammates, but at the same time I never felt like I could “come home from work.” It seemed as though no matter where I went I was potentially on the job.

New Adventures

There were other factors to my decision as well. Last fall I became aware of a publishing and editing graduate certificate offered at FSU. When it came time to make decisions about this coming year I found that I was very interested in beginning that program. I could really use something on my resume that communicates to the world that I know how to use the English language. So, I have enrolled this fall in the first of four classes for that certificate. (Sadly, that class meets at the same time as Nav Night, the FSU Navigators’ weekly large group meeting.)

Another major factor was my church. Remember, to go into full-time ministry with The Navigators I would have had to leave Tallahassee. For about a year and a half now I’ve been attending a PCA church here in town called Wildwood. This summer, months after making my decision to stay in town for the coming year, I decided to join that church. It’s the first time I’ve ever joined any church on my own. I really think I’ve found something at Wildwood. I’m in a great men’s Sunday school class, the senior pastor is a man of the Word who passionately exhorts the congregation, and the church as a whole has a strong outward focus. It’d be a shame to give that up so quickly. Plus, I’ve always told myself that if I ever left Tallahassee to go into full-time ministry I would need to have a church to launch me. Now I have one.

Thoughts from Scripture

This summer I led a Bible study on 1 Peter. I’d like to make the first four verses from chapter five my mission statement for the coming year.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Now, generally speaking I don’t consider myself an elder, but I take on that role for the students as a collegiate minister. In this passage, Peter is imploring his readers who are elders to serve as overseers, and then lists three important clarifications that I think apply to me. First, this year I’ll be serving entirely because it’s my desire to do so. Second, I’m not out to gain anything from this, money or otherwise. This truly is service. Third, this year any influence I have on students will come as a result of the example I set for them. I no longer have the campus minister title granting me that authority.

Reflection and Clarification

Let me be clear on a few points.

I do not view the past year as a failed experiment or a waste of time. I view this past year as a wonderful experience. Even though I have chosen to move in a different direction after one year does not mean that I regret taking the chance I took. It was easily the most difficult year of my life, but I now have a much clearer concept of my strengths, capabilities and desires.

I recognize that much of what made this past year difficult was the fact that I chose to work two jobs, that if I had simply made the jump into full-time ministry I probably would have saved myself a lot of stress. I think about that a lot and wonder whether or not I would have regretted leaving Tallahassee to go into full-time ministry.

Amazingly, my decision didn’t have anything to do with the difficulty of fund raising. As I write this I currently have more monthly supporters on my support team for this coming year than I did for last year. (Of course, I have far fewer one-time givers, which is where a large portion of my support came from last year.) I’ve seen God provide and I’m confident He would have done it again. If I ever minister professionally again I would not hesitate to take a position that required me to fund raise.

While making the decision to leave part-time Nav staff, it was never a question of which of my two jobs I liked better. I didn’t ask myself, “Andrew, what would you rather be: a campus minister or a data entry specialist?” It was also not an ultimatum, such as “Andrew, either start full-time ministry next year or never do it. What’s it going to be?” The question I was asking was, “Andrew, next year, do you want to be a full-time campus minister, a volunteer, or would you like to try something totally new?”

I want to further stress that this decision does not imply that my days ministering professionally are over. I have not ruled out the idea of joining EDGE Corps in the future, though after this year I have some very specific thoughts on what that would have to look like (which I won’t get into here). Nor have I ruled out the idea of someday moving overseas to become a “tentmaker,” an idea that has become much more appealing to me recently.

My Fall 2008 Ministry

As I mentioned earlier, this year I will be on volunteer staff with the FSU Navigators. I also mentioned that I’d be doing a little bit of fund raising for this position. First I’ll go over what my ministry, Lord willing, will look like, and then I’ll go into the nuts and bolts of the funding. Since my time on-campus will once again be limited to what I can give after work and on weekends I’m only going to take on a little. I am co-leading a men’s Bible study with my good friend Zack Latham on Wednesday nights this fall. It’s a Bible study on basic Christian disciplines (for those in the know: it’s neither the Power For Life study nor the Design for Discipleship series, but something similar).

Additionally, I plan to take my ministry on the road, so to speak. In the past I’ve made the decision up front to concentrate all my time in one particular dorm. But this year I’m going to try a different approach. Rather than pick a specific dorm, I’m going to go wherever the men in my Bible study are living, whether that’s on the east side or west side of campus, or even off campus. I’m going to do my best to be a blessing to those men and to the people within their spheres of influence, no matter where that takes me. I’ll probably only have one night each week to give to this, maybe two on a good week, but in all honesty that’s about as often as I was on campus in such a capacity last year.

Raising Financial Support

The financial support that I raise will go to three purposes. First, it will help me fund my personal ministry, which includes things like taking students out for meals, personal conference fees, and sending out newsletters. That’s a relatively small piece of the pie.

The biggest piece of my funding will go to offset costs for students on two of our trips. Our annual spring conference is a great way for our students to connect with each other, grow their biblical convictions, and learn about the various summer opportunities available to them. But we have to get them there, and that’s not always easy! The cost per student is typically about $125, which is pretty steep for anyone, but it’s especially high for a poor college student who’s sitting on the fence. So, my goal is to raise enough support to allow every first-time conference attendee (both freshmen and the folks who have turned the trip down in the past) to attend for only $25. I’m doing something similar for the fall men’s retreat, which can cost $30-40 for a one-night event. I’m going to raise support to make it $15 for first time attendees. These two trips can be turning points in the lives of our students. I want to get as many of them there as possible.

The final piece of my fund raising will go toward purchasing two pieces of equipment. One is a wireless microphone, which we’ve needed at Nav Night for a while. The second is a video camera. We have a film student in our ministry named Patrick who has volunteered to film anything we want. The hope is to be able to create some great promotional videos, both to pitch events and ideas to our students and to help our staff raise financial support.

All told I hope to raise $8000 to fulfill these three goals. If you’d like to help me reach my funding goal, you can give online.

The Big Picture

That’s the plan. Return to the traditional workforce full-time. Volunteer for The Navigators by co-leading a Bible study. Interact with the participants of that study in their spheres of influence. Raise financial support for my personal ministry, for offsetting students’ conference fees and for key equipment purchases. Take the first of four classes toward a graduate certificate in publishing and editing. So far, that’s what I’m committed to for the fall. I’m looking into joining a small group at Wildwood, but I want to see how much time those first things are going to take each week. I want to leave myself with some margin.

Despite all these changes, know that I am as committed as ever to seeing this generation of college students come to know Jesus Christ and to advancing His Kingdom into the nations. My role in that mission is changing, but my enthusiasm has not.

Soon I will be resuming my email prayer updates. I’ll also be sending out a new quarterly snail mail newsletter. I also have something new in the works for my prayer supporters, which I’ll be announcing later in September.

I appreciate you being with me through the journey. My road since graduation has seemed a bit convoluted, but I believe it all has purpose. I look forward to seeing where it will lead me next.

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