Twenty years ago in a dumpy little building, I started high school.
On Scott Street in St. Catharines. This was the location of Eden High School until 2000. This is where I began to realize God had called me to leadership and pastoring.
Yeah, this kid.
How unlikely of a candidate was I?
Well, I didn’t know anyone at my high school, save a cousin and one or two acquaintances.
I had no one to eat lunch with… until halfway through Grade 9.
Guys, I actually hid in the bathroom so people wouldn’t see me alone at lunch. Until halfway through Grade 9 when I met some great friends, who I’m still friends with today.
A lot of progress happened in those first couple years of high school.
God used this little building as a laboratory of personality.
He put situations, teachers, and friends in my path who could move me in this direction.
I’d been seeing the difference leadership could make in a church, or a youth ministry. I understood that even when everyone is sincere and loves Jesus, people need leadership.
And when we don’t have formal leaders, usually the strongest personality ends up as the functional leader.
So at school we did some career tests that year, sorting out our aptitudes and personalities.
And the funny thing was? Awkward as I found myself: I didn’t feel strange speaking in front of groups. That was OK. As long as I knew my material, having a captive audience and the ability to teach something could even be fun.
Never mind that I still stuttered my “r’s” when I was nervous and talked slash mumbled a million miles a minute the rest of the time. (Those things still happen, but a lot less these days.)
I remember a particularly ill-fated speech competition in Port Colborne. I completely bombed the speech portion (oh so badly!). But I knew some people from the local youth groups who went to the school. So I still got to have a good time that day and hang out with them.
And when we did those career aptitude tests? All the prior ideas I had about career faded into the background.
I began to realize that I felt a calling to be a pastor of some sort.
But I couldn’t yet see it.
I’d never known a female pastor, except hearing others speak scornfully of those “liberal churches.” With their “lady pastors.”
That’s all I’d ever heard of or known.
I hope that’s not all you’ve ever heard or known.
But that wasn’t my biggest obstacle.
That was my insecurity and awkwardness.
Leaders need to be listened to, right? If no one is following, how can you shepherd or guide or teach anyone?
And I was way more used to being made fun of than being followed.
I wasn’t funny.
I wasn’t the instigator.
I wasn’t known for big dreams or actually having wisdom.
I was just a dorky know-it-all who mumbled a lot.
And to become someone who could walk into new situations, meet new people and lead confidently?
I couldn’t see how I’d ever become that person.
Until the Island experiment.
(Not this island.)
This was class group work.
Possibly the first time group work has accomplished anything.
Under the old curriculum in Ontario, our Grade 9 wasn’t in semesters. Instead, you took every possible course there was. They just came in shorter, smaller “blocks.” So we all got shop class, we all got home ec., we all got music.
(During mandatory music class, you had to be in choir. I lip-synced in choir because my vocal range is so limited. We actually went to competitions and won awards. I wonder how many of us were just Milli-Vanilli-ing it)
So for this Island experiment, we were in some sort of Civics or Social type class.
And our task was this: You’re stranded on a desert island. Figure out how you survive and answer some questions along the way.
(We wouldn’t read “Lord of the Flies” for a couple more years, so we thought this would end well).
They asked us a few questions:
First, are you going to fend for yourselves, or function as a group?
Second, do you appoint a leader?
A few more decisions came after that.
We had to work together. It wasn’t the kind of “group work” where one person could just write down the answers. You actually had to come to agreements and function as a team.
And I remember sitting down in the hall with two people I hardly knew. Facing this total silence.
And thinking “well, if no one else is, I’ll take us through this.”
And for the first time in my life, working with people I didn’t know, I led our team.
And it worked.
We did well.
People listened, contributed, and we got something done.
It’s the tiniest thing, right?
Most of us would do that without blinking.
But this was the first time I’d ever done that.
Because this is the first time I naturally fit into the leadership role.
People got it, the task was done, and we all worked together well. And that helped me realize I could grow into this thing.
I wasn’t at the mercy of my current personality or experience.
What I was called to was more important than the labels I was called.
And I started to believe it.
I can’t recall who it was, but someone told me there was an advantage to my weakness.
That because I’d been shy and found it hard to speak, I would look to include others.
That if I was naturally social and it came easy, I would assume it came easy to everyone else. But because I was used to being on the outside, that gave me eyes to include everyone. To make sure everyone was part of things.
That it would temper my bulldozer personality.
And that’s been true. Again, I haven’t always been great at it, but I can see how God’s used this path to temper who I am and balance things out.
This was a turning point.
It seemed to snowball from there.
Make no mistake, there was much awkwardness and stupidity and mistakes. I hurt a lot of people and I was hurt. I shrank back from good opportunities and spoke too harshly a lot of the time.
And God didn’t leave me there.
I’d met some great friends at school. Some other church friends started attending the school too and I had a bigger social circle.
I’d attended Bethel Park Camp a couple times. At youth camp, I had powerful encounters with God there. He began to strengthen some things in my life and soften others. I prayed a lot more, and read the Bible in vast swaths.
We also had a pretty strong local network of churches, and I began going to these inter-church worship services and local youth rallies.
It was a unique time in Ontario for music as well. Lots of Christian concerts, yes, but there was also a developing music scene in the 905 (the area code I was in), spawning Alexisonfire and many others. So I started to go to a lot of little shows, travel, attend festivals… and go into a lot of mosh pits.
That was a really unique time to live in St. Catharines. The threads it set up still continue today in my life. The friendships I made in Grade 9 are still there.
And by now, most weeks I’m in groups where I step into leading and draw others into it. Or make the choice to hang back and let others do it. It’s as natural as breathing now.
Who would have thought, right? But I’m grateful.
10. The path of wisdom
11. Redeemed and resurrected
12. Three big lies
13. Courage to change
14. Adulting is hard…
15. And mentoring is harder
16. Bombs and truth bombs
17. Females and finances
18. Two hundred bad sermons
19. Evangelical, Pentecostal, Female, and Not Alone
20. Strong arms or feeble hands?
21. Strength to strength