Thursday, April 4, 2013

How the Student Engagement Ambassadors Changed My Life

To Allison, Austin, Caitlynn, Chef, David, Marina, MaryRose, Matthew, Rhi, Sulaimon,  Teddy and the Student Engagement Ambassadors of the past.

This is the tale of a journey. It's the journey of a young man called to be a pastor, who becomes a bivocational pastor, who then becomes a man with two vocations.

When I was about nine years old I was attending Family Camp with my mom and younger siblings outside of Manville, Illinois (never heard of it? Don't feel's small!). The children's program in the afternoon each day was called JAM - Jesus And Me. As with all good summer children's programs, Bible verse memorization was a part of the weeks' festivities. This program had a slight twist though. Renee, the program director, had a little "store" of fun prizes in one corner of the room. Throughout the week, by doing various tasks, you could earn toy money to buy cool prizes from the store. Well, I set my eyes on the big prize. It was awesome! It looked like so much fun! I just can't remember what it was.

One of easiest ways to earn money for the week was to memorize specific Bible verses and quote them. In the back of the room, near the door, there were little strips of paper with Bible verses typed out on them. The longer the verse, the more money you received. I wanted the big prize, so I took lots of verses and didn't shy away from the big ones!

I only specifically remember what one of these verses was: Matthew 28:18-20. Even though I can't remember the others, I do remember that all the verses that I picked up in hopes of winning that really awesome (yet forgettable) prize were centered around preaching and teaching the story of Jesus. As I memorized them and practiced quoting them to my mom, something interesting was happening inside of me. There was something stirring within me that was resonating with the messages of those Scriptures.

On the last night of the week, I was in the "big" service (as opposed to the "little" kids program) with my family. I don't remember who preached or what the sermon was about, but at the end the preacher invited those who wanted to pray to come forward and pray at an altar (this is a wooden bench that one kneels beside to pray. It's more a place of symbolic humbleness than a "magic place"). I was only nine, but something inside me was urging me to go forward. I don't remember ever feeling anything like it before that night. So I went down and knelt down at the altar. Soon my mom came down beside me and so did the trumpet player from the worship band. They asked me what I was praying about. And, for the first time, I spoke the words "I think God might be calling me to be a preacher." In those moments my life was changed forever. I felt a sense of closeness to God that I have only experienced again a handful of times. I knew, in that moment, that I was supposed to be a preacher.

Now, fast forward about about sixteen years. It's 2011. I have graduated from Olivet Nazarene University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pastoral Ministry. My wife and I have been married for about three years and have a daughter less than a year old. I'm attending Nazarene Theological Seminary and serving on the pastoral staff of Victory Hills Church of the Nazarene. (There is a whole lot of really good story I'm leaving out here...perhaps another time).

Feeling the need to add more responsibility to my life (as if being a full-time student, full-time associate pastor, and full-time husband & dad weren't enough!), my wife and I began praying about a change. We spent months sending out resumes to district superintendents hoping to find a church to pastor. We had long conversations with senior pastors about new staff positions in other states. And I applied for lots of jobs around the Kansas City area, thinking that perhaps I would just add something new to my pastoral ministry with the great people of Victory Hills. It was at this point that I applied for an open position at Johnson County Community College. I was definitely still called to be a pastor, but I had new baby-expenditures to pay and something inside of me that was pushing me forward.

The posting was for the position of Student Life Coordinator. The job description explained that this position would be supervising two rooms and a few student employees. The purpose was to use these rooms as effectively as possible. So, with my great student council experience from Olivet Nazarene University, I sent in my application.

It was several weeks afterwards, long after I had forgotten about even applying, that I got a call from Mindy Kinnaman, inviting me to come for an interview. Surprised, I tried to contain my joy inside while on the phone. The next week (or so) I went and interviewed, first with staff from the college, then with some students (Student Engagement Ambassadors!) - Erick and Devon. I left the day feeling hopeful, but uncertain about the prospects.

Weeks (maybe a month or two) passed and I heard nothing back. I pretty much forgot about the Student Life Coordinator position at JCCC. I had moved onto other conversations and possibilities, still serving and loving the good people of Victory Hills and still completing my coursework at NTS.

[skipping some important parts here] Later that Spring, a district superintendent was coming into the Kansas City metro area (where the Global Ministry Center for the Church of the Nazarene is located) who I had previously connected with. I set up a meeting/interview with him for one of his free evenings. The day before I went to meet with him I received a very-much-unexpected phone call from none other than Mindy Kinnaman, offering me the position at JCCC.

I was surprised when I first got the call for an interview. This call did something to me much bigger than "surprise." I didn't know what to think or how to respond, so I asked for the weekend to think about it. I went ahead and met with the district superintendent, spent a lot of time praying and talking, and even drove to campus on that Saturday to see what I thought about it. The next week I called and accepted the position [as if any of you were surprised!].

It seemed like God had opened the doors for this opportunity. I was still called to be a preacher, and was still serving as Associate Pastor at Victory Hills. But now, since God was leading me on, I was a bivocational pastor. That experience at age 9 was my foundation as a calling to vocational ministry - a call to preach and tell people the story about Jesus. My job at JCCC was to support my ability to minister and take care of my family. Being a pastor was my primary calling, and my work at JCCC secondary to that.

When I first started at JCCC in June of 2011, I was really bad at my job. I was an unsure leader and an inexperienced supervisor. I wish I could go back and start over with that first staff. Despite the learning curve, some of them put up enough with me to become good friends. Erick, Devon, and Erfan were especially significant in those early days (and Jillian became more so as time when on). There were lots of changes happening in our office right from the start. In the first month of my employment I had to write job descriptions for 5 new positions and interview and hire for them in the second and third months.

That August I was ordained as a minister in the Church of the Nazarene. I was called to be a preacher.

Things began changing right away in my position at JCCC. I had to grow up and be a leader. I had to create a culture where people enjoyed working and took responsibility for doing a good job. Dennis Bakke's Joy at Work greatly shaped the culture I tried to create. I had handle a diverse team from a handful of different countries with varying opinions. I had to figure out how to get from my office to other offices (an endeavor which I failed at on multiple occasions). Scheduling a team, handling requests for help, and making game time decisions all were a part of my job. I even had to make termination decisions. I was called to be a preacher and this was just supporting my ministry - but boy did it shape me.

That winter and then into spring, new student engagement initiatives were coming left and right. The secret was out: students are best engaged in college by other students. Who had the team of the most available student workers? Me. Before long I found myself coordinating a peer mentoring program, working with Mindy to administer a facebook application, and juggling a half a dozen other initiatives while still maintaining those two rooms the job posted had mentioned.

That April, through a long series of events, I was appointed pastor of Faith Church of the Nazarene in Lawrence, Kansas. So I left my staff position at Victory Hills and became a senior pastor for the first time. My family of 3 provided growth for the church at around the 50% mark.

I was called to be a pastor, but this bivocational pastor thing seems to be long term. So, for now, I am called to be a bivocational pastor. I have two vocations, but primarily I am a pastor.

Crises happened with my staff at JCCC. After spending so much time in my office coordinating initiatives, I found out that my staff was about to implode. Peer evaluations and a couple staffing changes later, crises remedied.

Heading into my second fall semester, I had already created some significant relationships with my team. Some of these connections have continued. These folks shaped me. Gina, Toshie, Hannah, Alex, Devon, Rhi, Audrey, Emily, Erick, and more. I really had connected with my supervisor, Mindy, by this point. We had worked some long, hard hours on new initiatives and troubleshooting problems. I felt (and feel) really blessed to have such a boss! I had also grown to love Pam, the Assistant Dean, who was so supportive of our efforts! At this point, Leila had also joined our Student Life Staff. She's become another one of my great friends. We - Mindy, Leila, and I - have been known to call ourselves Kelandy because of our ability to work so well together!

Having restaffed the majority of my team (a natural byproduct of hiring students at a community college), I felt very excited to start Fall 2012. Again, I was blessed to connect with some new great Ambassadors. Plus, our team grew! More people, more hours, and more responsibility.

Meanwhile, I was just figuring out what it really meant to be a bivocational senior pastor. I felt much like I did when I first started at JCCC -- like I didn't have a clue. For those first few months, I was prayerfully and carefully flying by the seat of my pants.

Now we are in the Spring 2013 semester (obvs!).

Faith Church has grown as a community of faith, reaching out to the community. I love my people and care deeply for them and their spiritual growth. Remember, I'm a bivocational pastor.

My team of Student Engagement Ambassadors this semester, along with Mindy, Leila, Pam and others, have really changed my life. I have watched this team (as others did before them in different ways) change the lives of their classmates.

I have watched as Allison has become a case manager and led a staff of her peers to successfully intervene in students' lives with record-level success. In between cases, she plays video games with the guys in the Student Lounge, building personal relationships while beating them.

Austin and Caitlynn took on the brand new positions of Project Team Leader and Event Team Leader respectively. I am utterly convinced that Austin could succeed and lead in any career path he chooses. He has an innate ability to connect with others in ways that I have never seen. He is a deep thinker and very well might change the entire world. Caitlynn took on the task of a project manager - pushing deadlines and enforcing procedures. I don't think she has convinced herself yet, but she is a caring and organized leader who is worth following. She has definitely convinced me!

Chef, well, Chef is Chef. After being one of our regulars in the Lounge for semesters, he jumped right in and totally revamped our equipment organization. He connects with gamers on a unique level and is a fighting game guru.

David is a people person. He is an articulate communicator and a charismatic leader. He is sharp and ambitious, a real big-picture sort of guy. He has the daunting task of publicity for our office. He has impressed me in his ability to take his "big-picture" self and be successful in a detail-oriented position.

No one has made me feel more loved at work that Marina (although I'm sure Caitlynn and others have secretly helped). She has brought our team together and truly made us feel like family. Her, Caitlynn, MaryRose (and perhaps unknown others) have all let me know so many times that I am appreciated and loved by my staff. Marina is incredibly creative while at the same time able to keep up with deadline-ridden social media projects.

MaryRose, or MRS as I refer to her in shorthand, is a unique combination of leader with a strong opinion and caring, compassionate sensitivity. She has huge ideas and a huge heart!

Teddy is her compatriot. The two of them are the event planners for our team. Month after month they come up with creative ideas that both appeal to our regulars and reach out to new crowds of students. Teddy is a renaissance man - just good at everything. He's career choice is theatre and I won't be surprised if I see his name on the nominee for awards shows in another ten or fifteen years. In the meantime, he has what it takes to support his acting habit and will succeed in whatever side-job he gets.

Matthew and Rhi work together as our tournament coordinators. Matthew is a thoughtful individual who makes sure everything is always working. I have seen him develop and grow personally and professionally through this position. Rhi is a beautiful girl with an inviting personality. Her ability to connect with developmentally disabled students is incredible - she is so compassionate and helpful. She is in the process of owning her beautiful attributes and isn't quite sure where she is going - but I expect incredible things from her. I know she will succeed!

Last, but not least, is the S-Man, Sulaimon. This guy, brand new to the team, broke into the "Top 5 Best JCCC 2 the Max Events of All Time" list on his first attempt in a brand new position at the beginning of a semester! He is a fantastic orator, an expert researcher, and a welcoming host. He is a quiet man of few words, but when he talks, listen!

Through working with these Student Engagement Ambassadors I have grown to fully understand the importance of my position at JCCC. These students, who haven't even completed Associate's degrees yet, are completing tasks and projects with excellence that full-time professionals with college degrees are paid exponentially more for. Why do they do it? Because they see the importance of offering hope to their peers. They want to see other students feel connected and supported at JCCC, to know where to go to help, to have hope of a future life.

I feel the same type of pride in my team of Student Engagement Ambassadors as I do for my own children (no, I am not old enough to be their dad too!). As I have seen them develop and grow into their positions as "hope-mongers" at JCCC, I have also found a part of me that feels "at home" here in student engagement. The opportunity (and responsibility) I have to invest personally in the lives of this staff and lead them in ways to change the lives of others is outstanding!

The challenges, initiatives, and relationships connected to my job as Student Life Coordinator at JCCC have taught me how to love others and lead others. These relationships have changed who I am as a person.

When I was nine, God called me to be a preacher. When I was 25, he called me to be a bivocational pastor. When I was 26, he called me to be a preacher with two vocations. Somehow, I feel just as at home at JCCC as I do at Faith Church of the Nazarene. In both places I serve a loving God who saved me from those things that once controlled me through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While it takes different forms, I try to share this hope wherever I am.

God has invited me to be a preacher with two vocations - pastoral ministry and higher education. He used a whole lot of students, fantastic supervisors, and great coworkers to teach me what it means to be a pastor and a leader and I will be forever grateful to them (and to God for His work in my life through them). I pray that I might impact their lives as much as they have impacted mine.

Thank you for reading the story of how the Student Engagement Ambassadors have changed my life.

1 comment:

  1. Keith, I was revisiting this today. You're the best! If anyone is good at making people feel loved, it's you.


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