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What does mid life look like for you and what have you learned?

At mid-life we are evaluating our identity and ask the question, ‘Who am I?’ again. Is it time to transition my role, refocus on my passions, renew my values, have a clearer picture of how I want to finish and have a general reboot of life. We have asked a few YWAM leaders to share some personal thoughts on midlife.

We all arrive in YWAM at different stages of our lives and so if we stay a long time our journeys can look very different where lifelong learning is concerned.  In my case I was 34 when I joined YWAM in 1991, professionally at the top of my game qualifications wise and having served in two wars.  Of course, I had much more to learn in YWAM, both from training to be an effective missionary and living in a Christian community.  However, I learned from some great teachers in YWAM, though I think it was the experiences on outreaches that taught me the most. Through outreaches in Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Ghana I was released more to teach and minister.  Then in Togo I led a team that planted a church in a fishing village, and I am still in touch with the pastor we eventually installed after sponsoring his training. That was in 1995 and the following year I became captain of m/v Anastasis, though I had started a marine training programme onboard in 1992. 

So, for me, training up the next generation of YWAM mariners and pioneering new ventures has always been what I was called to and will end with.  Along the way though, it is important to always develop yourself. So, I completed leadership training courses with the John Maxwell foundation and the Navigators, as well as YWAM.  All encouraged me to develop my own teaching which I got to share mostly while I was International Director of Marine Reach ministries (2007 to 2017).   The thing about developing other leaders or yourself, is it takes time.  

For example, Dane, who is now pioneering the YWAM Maritime Academy Fiji centre started training with me in 2017.  He is rare, as I find many young leaders won’t put in the time and effort to reach their stated goals.  Also, over the years I have trained and mentored many young leaders, however, even although several served effectively for many years, almost all have left for paid positions. Although this does not diminish how I feel about them, YWAM does need to be continually developing new leaders with long term callings.

(Captain Brian G Sloan AFNI, has served with YWAM over 30 years.)

When younger and in YWAM my priority was in being a part of going and sharing the gospel in the nations. I was figuring out what I was passionate about and tried out various ministries. As I have aged and reached midlife while still in YWAM, I have found that my priorities have changed some. It is more vital for me to equip younger YWAMers and to pass on the lessons I have learned and the experiences. I want to show them how they can use their passions to go and share the gospel. I have found myself more in administrative/backbone roles in YWAM that enable others to go. It looks different in that the flexibility to just go and travel is harder because of carrying responsibility. I also think that those of us in midlife on YWAM, we start to think more about whether our time and energy is really making a difference in the mission and in the world. 

(Sharon Neely, 20 years in YWAM having served on four different continents) 

I actually didn’t realise that I went through midlife – until I was asked to write this paragraph – I’ve just been living life! Certainly having 3 children under 8 when I turned 45 helped me to keep thinking young! I had my own “ministry career” in frontier missions before getting married. In many ways that pivoted in my 40s to a lot more time with our children. While I continued contributing in a wide variety of ways over those years – everything from leading our communications department to staffing Leadership Training Schools – I can see that as our children became more independent, I also started having more time for other ministry opportunities that arose. Some of those included broader leadership roles in areas that I’ve been passionate about for decades. Certainly, I don’t feel like I need to do everything that I did when I was younger. I know myself a lot better now. My overall priorities haven’t changed, but the way that they have worked out in my life has. One thing that I’ve reminded myself over the years is a quote from Dr Ralph Winter: “Seek first the kingdom of God – and He will take care of your career.”  

(Rhonda Ashworth, been serving with YWAM 27 years, huge heart for unreached people)

I am 47 years old and I joined YWAM when I was 19.  I don’t think I saw myself as being in the mission that long when I first joined but who would?!  I was enthusiastic and full of an innate desire to change the world and make a difference.  I think this is one of the key marks of a youth movement, it is doing something meaningful for God and includes adventure and hopefully travel.  

And it came true for me.  I never looked back, at least not in my 20’s.

My path crossed into the leadership realm sooner than others.  I found myself leading a youth team by the age of 21 which included being part of the base leadership team.  I fell into national leadership by 22 without looking for it and this opened up a new level of responsibility that lasted for the next 20+ years which included starting new bases, becoming the national leader, European leadership, church leadership and even sitting on the YWAM global forum.  At some point I think I began to realise there was more to life than being a leader, the stress and complexity of different issues faced became tiring and not as fulfilling as when I was young. With all the meetings, it also became hard to really measure my fruitfulness.

As I moved towards mid-life, my priorities and desires changed slightly, now I realised that changing the world was a very long journey indeed and my contribution was so minimal it hardly seems worth it.  Now I realised it was also about being a good husband, a good dad, a good friend, a balanced person, a lover of Jesus and a man that was marked by virtue and the fruits of the spirit.  This was not an overnight realisation incidentally but a slow plod towards knowing over 10 years or more.  

I realised more and more that God didn’t care what I did for him.  But he did care deeply who I was becoming and how deep our relationship went.  This kind of revelation is a funny one to enter into at the point of life when you are neither young nor old.  The liminal space we like to call ‘mid-life’.  Questions now surround me such as who am I, what have I invested in that actually made a difference (and what does that mean anyway!), what will the next 30 years look like and what kind of person will I be when my life is coming to an end?  They are complex questions and unless you have begun to ask yourself these kinds of things slowly in your early 30’s, it can be a serious shock to the system.  Being reflective, I had fortunately been mulling over this stuff for some time but it didn’t make it easier.  

At 47, this is how I measure fruitfulness and what might be deemed as successful or important;

Who have I invested in?  What lives have I truly touched in a way that they have been empowered in their calling, and inspired to love God more?  Have I always been obedient to the calling of the Lord, no matter what the cost, and even to the extent of not worrying what people think of me.  And in the words of the band Delirious, am I known as a man that is friends with God?

(Carl Tinnion,     Dad.  Husband.  Artist.  Chef.  Anglican Church planter in New Zealand.  YWAM Associate…….Friend of God!)

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