Surprisingly, a few months after leaving Ministry School I had one of the hardest times of my life. You would think I went back happy, changed and ready to take over the world… But no. I felt depressed. I felt abandoned. And after finding out so much about myself, I felt utterly lost.
You hear horror stories of what life looks like after going to a ministry school (or being a part of a long missionary trip). Of people who couldn’t handle the transition and committed suicide. Others who felt so disconnected to reality that ended up doing drugs and prostituting for money. I wish I was exaggerating! But the truth is that being immersed in a uber-safe-Christian-bubble can sometimes produce a kind of illusion that demands time and intentionality to properly leave.
I went to the School of Ministry in Toronto (SOM – somtoronto.com) when I was 19. It was there where I discovered my identity as a son of God. In the school, they gave me the opportunity to preach and I learned the joy of public speaking (as oppose to the terrifying-fear-from-hell I had before). In 5 months there, I made life-long friends and received incredible promises from God. I was also educated in doing my own ironing and cleaning other people’s toilets (while being constantly encouraged and honored by the staff).
And in that glorious season I felt like I found the true “me”.
Oh, and I also broke up with my girlfriend of seven years!
Yes, I was 13 when we started dating.
Yes, we dated till I was 20.
Si, I am Puertorican.
Going to a ministry school brings major shift. Really good, and Godly, and worthwhile shift.
Actually, so much had shifted for me, that I needed to stay! I feared the loss of the warm-fuzzy-feeling of community and shared purpose. And this is common for students that finish a ministry school. It is normal and human to want to extend joy.
The issue is not the school, the mission or the community. The problem is the dependency.
You see, it’s like the end of a roller coaster. The child-like response is to go at it again, for one more ride. The problem is that if you do it too much, you end up throwing up all over yourself, and sometimes all over the people who are going on the ride with you.
Been there. Done that.
The leaders of the school asked me to stay for a year to be a Group Leader. So I had an extra 12 months of opportunity, of changes and flirting… Yes, after seven years of dating the same girl, I discovered the joys (and dangers) of spiritual flirting.
Then, right when I was getting mentally prepared to head back home, I was asked to stay an extra year to intern for the Senior Leaders of the church. John and Carol Arnott took me in and treated me like their son. So I spent the next 18 months traveling the world with them. Getting incredible opportunities to preach. Being exposed to big-time church leadership. And getting REALLY good at flirting. (Or so I thought)
Then I had a dream. And in this dream I saw a girl. Then this girl showed up to be a student at the school. Then I focused all my spiritual-latino-desperate-flirting towards her, and she is now my wife. #Win
But then, I left. And the bubble burst in my face.
After more than three years of acceptance, traveling and God-given revelation, I was in Puerto Rico. And that home, felt nothing like it.
Actually it felt like the desert valley of the past. I was living with my parents, disconnected from my home church and with zero invitations to share the message that burned inside of me. Nobody cared that I had been John Arnott’s intern. Nobody wanted to hear about my trips abroad. There was no interest to learn about the miracles, signs and wonders that forever impacted my life.
So I felt like a nobody. And for days and weeks and months I waited to feel what I had felt in Toronto. I wanted the experience of God’s embrace, I wanted the approval of men and the honor of my leaders. I did not want to help around my parents house, but I wanted so bad to be back cleaning School of Ministry toilets.
It was weird. It was difficult. It was perfect.
I needed to leave. Not just physically, but spiritually, mentally and emotionally. It was in the pain that I got to really live out what I had learned. And in the loneliness I discovered the true company of my Savior.
You might be trapped in a familiar feeling. Where the isolation is overwhelming and you begin to forget the hope that burned while you were there. So I asked a couple of my friends, all graduates of a Ministry School to share some insight with us. They themselves are proof that these programs are an incredible investment of your time and money.
Here is The Survival Guide For Ministry School Graduates by Ministry School Graduates:
– Kristen Wilcox is a graduate from the SOM in Toronto. After doing the School she moved to Raleigh to be our intern. She is now our family (literally our favorite person outside our own children). She wrote, “Find a support system. Without one, life outside school can really suck.” She’s right. It really can. So be intentional about connection. And stay in community.
– Super awesome Abby Smith, who we have known since she was five and is currently a leader in Toronto wrote, “Adapt to your surroundings, getting a job is not moving backward…” It sounds obvious, but when you had 900 prophetic words telling you about your calling to the nations, getting a 9 to 5 job seems like disobedience. It’s not! It’s good training. It’s money. And it’s the perfect mission field.
– Keith Hornbuckle is a SOM graduate who now interns for our School of Revival (schoolofrevival.com) in Raleigh. He brilliantly wrote, “Challenge yourself to being okay with not being in ministry, ever. If you are then still satisfied with God and His love for you really is enough, then you may be ready for ministry. It’s going to be hell without the peace of knowing he wants you for you and not for ministry.” Yes and Amen.
– Jess Smith, who left the comforts of America to be a radical missionary in Mozambique wrote to me (for you). “Be yourself and who you know God created you to be. Keep your eyes on Him always and He will strengthen you.” Basic Christianity is always the perfect strategy.
– “Leaving that ‘Christian bubble’ was very challenging for me. But one very important thing I learned from school was to continually feed my spirit.” My good friend Josh McMillian said that. I know he lives by that. I see it in his life, in his marriage and his relationship with Jesus. Take his advice, feed yourself with the good stuff (worship, teachings, books, friendships) and you will not get moody-hungry.
– Aaron Mitchell has a Masters in Theology and is the Dean of Academics in our Ministry School. He wrote, “Practice the revelation! The process of Christian spirituality is a series of mountain tops and valleys. The mountain tops are for revelation and relationship. The valleys are for dependency and depth. Dependency creates and establishes character and depth leads to greater intimacy.” So don’t fear the valley. Embrace the journey. What you get in the waiting, is just as important as what’s coming next.
Let me end by sharing 3 things that helped me:
1. Don’t Compare: The easiest thing is to compare negatively. The right thing is to focus on the positive. Yes, your church/pastor/leaders/family/friends might not be as good as what you experienced in your ministry school. But actually, they are. It’s true that you have changed. But don’t allow God’s work to become the pride that keeps you isolated.
2. Share Your Story: Find an outlet. Write a blog. Reconnect with old friends that are interested. One of the hardest things about re-entry is the fact that your past relationships don’t really know what to do with you. So you might feel abandoned, out-of-place. It’s ok to feel like a square block in a round hole, just find a square hole and fit yourself.
3. Take it easy: Enjoy the rest of re-entry. It’s really hard to have it all figured out after a time of change. Take time to chill. Travel a little. Enjoy your family. And breathe.
It was in the place of “not being wanted” that I discovered God’s passion for me. Not my doings, not my sermons, not even my good behavior… just me. Allow this post-ministry-school season to be the best schooling your heart gets. Learn the lessons of His love and make your home in the greatest bubble there is, the God of all comfort Himself.
[bctt tweet=”Until God opens the next door, praise him in the hallway. “]
Read more on, Re Entry: Making The Transition From Missions To Life At Home by Peter Jordan. This book was a life saver for me.
Read more on my Discovery of Sonship here: