I was 15 when I started working at my church. It started out with small tasks, I suppose you'd say. I'd help in the kitchen, which was an easy job to get because, well, my mom was the cook, so, if they were shorthanded and needed someone to do the dishes or something, I'd get drafted. I mowed lawns for the building superintendent. Sometimes, I got the oh-so-fun job of cleaning the bathrooms. Things like that.
But I was good with kids so, somewhere in there, I transitioned to working in the various children's programs, and I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school (when I was 16) working in the gym assisting the recreation director with all of the summer programs, including the ones for teenagers, which meant I was in charge of my friends. It wasn't a big deal. I mean, I never had to go get someone higher up to enforce the rules because people wouldn't listen to me. Not even when I was in charge of adults during the evening programs. And, as time went on, I was left in charge more and more often.
During my junior year of high school, the recreation director left to go somewhere else. The church didn't hire a new one; they just put me in charge of the recreation programs. Nominally, I was under the auspices of the youth director, but, really, it was just me. Basically, he just had to sign off on whatever it was I wanted to do, but he never said no. [This was a good deal for the church, by the way. We were in a decline, at the time, and they replaced a salaried staff member with an hourly worker. A minimum wage hourly worker, at that. I'm sure they pocketed at least $25,000 off of the deal.]
During my senior year of high school, I started teaching Sunday school. Not to little kids, to my own age group. Sometimes, I also taught on Wednesday nights, too, to the whole youth group. And, sometimes, I taught the college group on Sunday nights. These teaching gigs were not because they didn't have anyone else to do it. They were because the youth director acknowledged that I was the most qualified. To put this in context, any time there was a disagreement about anything in the Bible between my youth director (who also taught Latin, so a smart guy) and myself, when we got into it and did the research, he always had to come tell me that I was right. [This is not me bragging. This is me giving you the necessary contextual background to understand what's coming up.] The only thing he didn't fully concede to me was our disagreement on Revelation to which he said, "I'm not saying that you're right, but I am saying that I was wrong."
All of that to say that I was fairly integral to the running of things "downstairs" (where the youth stuff was located) well before I graduated from high school. But, then, I graduated from high school, and, then, I went away to college. During the summer after my graduation before I left, the youth pastor quit. It was very sudden, but he got a (much) better offer from another church in the city and, basically, just walked out the door. Sure, he gave, like, the standard two weeks notice, but that doesn't mean much in church work. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed at him for bailing, and we didn't exactly part on the best of terms.
Now, let's jump ahead a couple of years.
Where I went to college, although in another state, was only about an hour away from home. My mom didn't much like having me out of the house, but freshmen were required to live on campus, so that's what I did. As soon as I became a sophomore, though, she started urging me to move back home and commute to school. The thing that decided me to do that was that opportunity to become the acting youth director at my church, the church I had mostly not been to for the past couple of years (other than the summer between my freshman and sophomore years). Hmm... maybe "acting" is not quite the word I want. Technically, there was a youth director, but they had rolled a whole bunch of stuff up into one position, so he was about six different things: youth, recreation, college/career, education, and... well, I can't remember what else. At any rate, he wasn't much interested in teaching the youth, so he offered me a spot under him in which I would be over the youth (and, mostly, the recreation) program. I was still not on staff, though, and still being paid by the hour. [Yes, it's like the crummy deals that authors take from traditional publishers when they are first starting out because 1. they don't know any better and 2. they are just happy to be being published.]
Just to make this point clear, when I left to go away to college not quite two years prior to that first Wednesday night I walked down into the youth room to teach, we had been running 40-50 teens on a Wednesday night. But I and the youth pastor had both left at the same time, and he had been replaced with a guy who felt like the teenagers were a burden and didn't really want to have anything to do with them. I knew there had been deterioration, but, still, I wasn't expecting the sight I was greeted with: two kids. Two. Both of them middle schoolers. I didn't even know who they were.
[So, yeah, I know that this doesn't seem to fit into this series, but, trust me, it does. Just come back next week.]