Hello, lovely. I'm writing this because I believe in you. I believe you are important. I believe the calling that God has on your life is important. And I don't want you to miss it.
See, I am a Highlands College alumna. I graduated with the Class of 2014, the first class to ever attend Highlands College when it became a college - it was 24/7 the semester before. I've had a chance to see it change and evolve over the years, and since I did two years of HC and went through placement, worked at an ARC church, and now have the unique perspective of a Highlands Staff member, I was hoping you would give me a few minutes to tell you how I would do this Highlands College thing if I were you.
1. I would recognize that I am breathing rare air.
There are people all over the world who would give their right arm to have a portion of the ministry training and opportunities that you have at your fingertips. Don't take it for granted.
2. I would hold my "calling" with open hands.
If I ever have a chance to speak at chapel, this is what I will talk to you about. For the first year and a half of my Highlands College experience, I just knew I was called to be a full-time worship leader. So I obsessed over set-lists, stage time, and music theory. I was overcome by jealousy of whoever was getting "more opportunity" than me. I had tunnel vision for worship leadership - I can sing, so that means God called me to worship. You've called me, right, God? When are you going to tell the Worship Staff that you've called me? Cause it doesn't seem like they've gotten the memo. I kept asking God when the favor was going to appear, when all the while doors were flying open in the Creative Department and favor was actually heaping out onto my head - I just didn't see it. One day, I finally opened my hands and asked God if He really wanted me to be a vocational worship leader, and it was like He breathed an almost-audible sigh of relief and said FINALLY. Now we can get somewhere. And He lead me to Creative, which fits me in every way - in fact, I can see all of my passions and the things I have done over the course of my 26 years of life playing into my Creative brain and ministry. I just had to get out of my own way. Begin to pray this way: God, I'm here for You, so what is it exactly that You want me to do? I'll go where You want me to go. His calling on your life is greater than the calling you're currently convinced that you have.
3. I would fall in love with the local church.
More than being a lead pastor, worship leader, creative, outreach director, whatever, you are called to build and pour into the local church. Your success at being the greatest lead pastor of all time is not the hope of the world. The local church is the hope of the world. Fall in love with seeing people saved, delivered, redeemed and fulfilled, and find out how you can help make that happen. This is your true calling.
4. I would invest heavily in same-sex friendships.
If you are intentional about it, the friends you make during these two years will be the kind that last. The kind that will cry with you on Skype during your first inevitably difficult year of ministry and say, "I know, this is harder than I thought, too!" (Shout out to my girl Liz. You're a straight up God-send.) These girls and guys are the ones who will know you down deep - what moves you and the ways you struggle, who will hold you accountable so you can finish your race, who will walk through hell with you, who will pray for you when you're fighting a battle you can't win alone. Don't get distracted by those gorgeous godly women and those fine MOG's that look so dang good in plaid shirts and skinny jeans. Sure, one of them might be your spouse one day. But that cannot be your focus right now. That being said, I should also add that
5. I wouldn't date my first semester.
JUST. DON'T. DO. IT. I did many of the things on this list while I was in HC, but this is one of the ones I didn't do, and trust me, you've got so much transition happening in your life right now, you do not need to add any drama to it. And there will be drama if you date your first semester. Guaranteed. Give yourself time to get settled into your new rhythm of chasing God with everything you have. Then, later, if you see someone chasing God near you, and you like the way they run, do something about it. Later.
6. I would focus on my relationship with God and self-development.
The rest of your life, you will be focused on other people. You need to be. Ministry is, at it's core, not about you. It's about the lost and the hurting and the lonely. So, if you're going to live a life that's not about you, you need to be HEALTHY. Pay attention in LIFE group, become self-aware, confront your pride and fear, get friends to ask you hard questions, and prioritize alone time with Jesus. Get in the Word. Lean into the Holy Spirit. Worship a LOT. Get a mentor. Get accountability. Don't lie to your mentor or accountability. If you can be healthy, you will be able to do great ministry. Speaking of being healthy,
7. I would get the junk out of me and leave it behind.
I said it once, I'll say it again: pay attention in LIFE group. Conquer habitual sin, break old gross soul ties, defeat the victim mentality, leave the past in the past, and walk forward as an overcomer. You have an opportunity to drop your mess and leave it here. Trust me, you don't want that stuff with you in ministry. Get rid of it now.
8. I would recognize the caliber of leadership around me.
Highlands College and Church of the Highlands are chock-full of world class leaders. There will be great leaders at the churches you eventually go to work for, but probably not this many of them all in one place. The Lead Team, Department Heads, Professors, and staff around you are helping facilitate an incredible move of God, and many of them have decades of ministry experience - and guess what? They've made themselves available to you. Someone at Highlands has an answer to any ministry question you can think of. Go ask someone in leadership to have coffee with you. Tomorrow. And while you're developing an awareness and appreciation for the leadership around here...
9. I would be a "Yes Man."
Ok. A little tough love. I was talking with a staff member yesterday who said he walked up to a group of HC students and asked if anyone could do him a favor and all of them - all of them - just shrugged and mumbled about being busy. Come on, friends. First of all, he is staff. You've gotta pick up your honor game A LOT. Secondly, this could have been an opportunity for you to do something that might have created additional opportunities in his department for you to serve and learn and grow and ultimately become a better minister of the Gospel, and laziness or general lack of interest kept you from walking through an open door. There are opportunities all over the place: Highlands is doing a ton of stuff all the time and there is always something you can be doing to help. Get your head in the game and seize the opportunities you have in front of you. And if a staff member asks you if you can do them a favor, SAY YES! You'll be so glad you did. On that note,
10. I would seek out opportunity.
It's there, trust me. If I did anything in Highlands College right, it was asking Kellen Coldiron for a meeting and telling him I wanted to serve in Creative. I was in Worship Concentration, but I loved Creative and was willing to help in whatever capacity, and I asked Kellen if there was any way I could contribute. Now, asking Kellen for a meeting was a little scary - he's a Department Head and a foot and a half taller than me - but I did it anyway because I knew that taking initiative was the only way I would even have a chance of working with and learning from the incredibly funny, amazingly talented group of Creatives we have at Highlands. Kellen's only stipulation for me was that I follow through - which I did, and I suggest you do that as well. Not only was I able to learn a TON from that serving opportunity - which later turned into a concentration switch and early internship - but I learned enough to be placed as a Creative Director at an ARC church and built great relationships with the team that I now have the great honor of working with today. If you're passionate about something, sledgehammer a hole in the wall, build a frame, get some hinges, install a door, open it, and walk through it. Be brave. Opportunity is waiting for you.
11. I would submit to spiritual authority.
When I first got to HC, I did not understand this concept. I was 23 and perpetually trying to figure out why everyone was trying to tell me what to do and control my life. I was a college graduate and an ADULT, for goodness sake! When I finally realized that I didn't know everything (still don't!) and got under some spiritual authority, I noticed that I began to walk in greater confidence, strength and favor. There is so much protection in spiritual authority, y'all! Instead of making a decision and hoping it works out, you get to bounce ideas off of someone way wiser than you, someone who has potentially already made the mistake you're about to make and can save you from a great deal of pain. Today, I don't make any big decisions without running it by my spiritual authority. They help me process through all the noise in my head and hear God's voice more clearly. I get to be confident that I am walking in God's will when I walk in submission. And we all know that is the very best place to be.
12. I would listen more than I talk.
A little more tough love. I've been observing Highlands College since I returned to Highlands, and I have to say, y'all sure do talk a lot. I say that with great love (and a tad bit of concern). You have brilliant things to say, wonderful ideas, tremendous vision, and God-sized dreams. And you sometimes end up talking over the very leaders who can help you achieve those dreams. Embrace self-control and respect for authority. Listen carefully, and take notes. Observe the behavior of those who are successful in what you desire to do one day, and imitate them. Follow them around. I was Kellen's very short shadow for my last semester in HC, and that is the only reason I was able to confidently accept a Creative Director position. I am convinced that careful observation is the best way to learn. And this next one is an add-on to this, but
13. I would ask questions.
An HC professor recently brought me in to chat with a group of students for a few minutes while he went to a meeting, and when he introduced me, he said "This is Katie, and she's been in the seat you're sitting in right now. She has been through everything you're going through, and she was successfully placed, so she's been where you want to go. Her brain is basically a treasure trove for the whole process, so ask her questions!" And then he left. And then they stared at me. So I decided to tell them about what I do for Highlands and what I did at Next Level Church, and I eventually paused to ask if they had any questions. After a period of uncomfortable silence, a half-hearted hand raised and the student said, "So what does an average day at Highlands look like for you?" Oh, man. What a wasted opportunity! I mean, I am not as interesting as Pastor Chris or as funny as Pastor Kellen or as experienced as Pastor Marcus, but I know at least one thing that you don't know. Maybe even two. And whenever you're around someone who knows things you don't know, you need to ask them about those things. Don't waste opportunities to learn. That is why you're here! And lastly,
14. I would prepare my heart to leave Highlands.
The reality is, you will likely be placed at an ARC church. This is a phenomenal and exciting opportunity, and it is the reason that Highlands College exists. We go to school to become finely tuned, intelligent, faith-filled, healthy, whole individuals who can be boots on the field to strengthen the Church. Don't pursue opportunity because you might get your foot in the door at Highlands. Pursue opportunity because it will make you better at fulfilling the calling God has placed on your life. And be open to that calling taking you anywhere, because there are lost people who need to hear about the love of Jesus everywhere.
And that's what it's all about. We are here to tell people about a love that is wider and higher and deeper and greater than they can imagine - one that's real, and one that truly saves. Can you believe that this is what we get to do with our lives? We get to bring hope to desolate places and see marriages restored and families reconciled and hurting people healed and the lonely set in families and joy conquering depression and people walking in the glorious freedom that Christ died to give us.
It's a beautiful calling, and it all starts here. This time and opportunity is fleeting and precious. You will never get these two years back. So lean in, give it everything you have, and squeeze every ounce of amazing goodness and learning and growing that you can out of it. Because the people that you will one day reach need you to be the best you that you can be. And you don't have to be perfect - I have SO much left to learn, and I'm daily confronting my own insufficiencies and leaning on God's grace - but we must all continue to run this race with perseverance and do all that we can to live a life worthy of this calling we have received. So, press in. I love you. And I believe that you will change the world.