A few weeks ago I got to spend some time with a family, who was part of a church I once ministered in. I was youth pastor to most of their kids, counseled another on baptism, and was friends with Dad.
At one point while we were all talking, the subject got serious and they told me how much my time as their youth pastor had meant to them. I had no expectation of this whatsoever, having been there for only about 16 months. And when I left it was not pretty.
There was no party. Nothing. It was weird and painful and we are most likely still licking our wounds over that. Anger has given way to sadness and now I just hope the youth in that church encounter a wondrous and gracious King to serve and love.
That visit did me a lot of good. You want the honest truth? I have always stood firm that the youth ministry I led was what I told them they would get – no frills, serious, serious discipleship. With a lot of laughter and frisbees.
But honestly, I always wondered….I wondered if I had any real impact there. When your youth cry and give you an iPhone (back when no one had one) like they did at the church before, you don’t wonder. There was just too much love to wonder.
So hearing from them and hearing those kind words put me in a good place. A lot of healing in that area has happened since that weekend.
That’s a long introduction for the meat of this post – a post in which the lion’s share of motivation comes from that always hanging thread of wonder – did it matter?
I had the thought that whole weekend of the heaven it would be for me, if I could put them all in a room, from all three churches, and remind them of what we experienced and we learned. And tell them of my affection for them. So, this is my attempt to do that.
Here are 10 things I would tell those hundreds of students I have known and ministered to. Some of this I told them so often they could finish my sentences. Some of this I neglected, either because of ignorance or willful blindness. Anyway, feel free to listen in even if you are not among that wonderful number.
1. Jesus is glorious. He was always our main subject. I hope he still is for you. His life, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, his intercession for us is still is worth your time. If you walked away without hearing me say this then I did not do well by you. The whole Bible is about The King so hopefully I did that fact justice.
2. Justification is good news. Every single one of you had it drilled into your heads that it is really good news that through the work of Jesus we are justified by faith. We are treated “justasifIneversinned” and “justasifIhadkeptthewholelaw” if we place our faith in Jesus. It’s a simple truth and it’s not the whole of the gospel story but man, it is so important. Let it be an anchor, a beacon, and the sea in which you drown.
3. “Love God and do what you want.” Y’all loved this one. Keep at it. Keep loving it until you can go deep inside of its truth. Luther knew what so many of you discovered – as you grow in your love for God, what you want tends to change dramatically.
4. Christian fellowship is valuable. We often spent time together just eating and talking, laughing. There was no agenda, no bible study, we just enjoyed being together. Sometimes there were dozens of us. Sometimes it was just the two us. Every time it was holy. I’m still convinced that more good was done in those moments than in all the intricate planning of retreats and events. I miss this the most.
5. Cut “cool” off at the knees. In our culture “cool” is a tyrant. And he will get you to do things you could not imagine. We are all susceptible to his stratagems, you just happen to be at an age when all his guns are leveled in your direction. Your best defense is still what you have in Jesus. Take Bono’s advice “Be uncool, be awkward.”
6. You are not stupid. For some reason evangelicals think teens need to be taught as if they are incapable of learning the great and glorious and deep truths of God and his world. I always got frustrated with that. You can learn algebra, The Scarlet Letter and Western Civ. You never needed me to do something crazy for you to listen. I never swallowed a Goldfish or shaved my head if our numbers grew. The gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. But it is not simplistic. Keep going deep, my friends.
7. Love others. Even if they are not reformed/Presbyterian. Even if they are not believers. I never stressed this. I should have and I’m sorry. I was too tribalistic with our faith. I love the Reformed faith…it has been a rock for me in tough times. But we do not have exclusive rights to truth. You will learn from Baptists, Catholics, the Orthodox and even unbelievers. Love them with the kind of love Jesus loves you with. One of grace and kindness and smiles and generosity. And humility.
8. Don’t be afraid of being small. Too often I probably made it sound like if you were really serious about your faith, you should think about ministry. Being a teacher or doctor or farmer was not worthy of your time. Well, that’s just stupid. Don’t be afraid to be in a “small” part of the kingdom. Be ordinary and unknown and be content. That’s more radical than anything else you will here in the church today.
9. God has given us many good gifts. Enjoy them. How many times did we pull the van over and stop in the middle of the road and marvel at the stars? How many times did we listen in wonder to an amazing song, again an again. How many times we did stop in worship at the taste of food? So very often. And I’m so glad we did. Those memories are worth more than gold.
10. My affection for you is still strong. I’ve told many of you that I am still your youth pastor, years later. You are now married, in grad school, raising kids, playing pro baseball, dreaming of being a doctor, starting college. You are a part of my life in ways no one else could be. I read books, hear songs, watch a movie, catch a bit of a conversation and I’m taken back to all we enjoyed. I look back on LYM, our trips to Jackson, and DEC with incredible joy. And thanksgiving. Because apart from the King, we would not have enjoyed all that and I would not have all these simply incredible memories.
Don’t forget these things.
Oh wait, one more thing – make fun of legalists. 😉