A True Story 35 Years in the Making

I love teenagers. I love their vibe, their potential, their abilities, their hope. I am a youth pastor through-and-through and will always continue to be. This is why I’ve been one for nearly 40 years. That means I was “doing” youth ministry in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and now and in the future.

This also means the way I “did” youth ministry in the 1980s is not how I “did” youth ministry in the 1990s and beyond. (This also means I have found a way to do youth ministry that works for the long haul—experience, time, and research taught me–that I am very opinionated about and am broken about how many churches “do” youth ministry so poorly.) This also means I whined about how I did youth ministry in the 1980s and mocked how others did youth ministry in the 1990s and beyond. There is a lot of mocking humor and whining about the youth ministry of the 1990s. The blogs about it are numerous and the books are interesting. Whatever format it is expressed, pain is laced throughout. Even when mocking humor is used about that powerful decade of youth ministry, you can read the pain between the words. And a lot of blame is laid on youth ministry for the pain of the Millennials and their struggles with faith.

Youth ministry is not blame-free and I do place some blame. This is why I am so opinionated about youth ministry (and am resisting sharing it here but will send you here). But the story is not over yet.

The following is a true and amazing story.

A friend of mine just went to his 35th high school reunion. As we all are about attending high school reunions, he was hesitant to go. At the last minute he RSVPed yes and went to his second reunion since graduating high school in 1981.

He was barely through the door when a former friend of his chased him down. He said he was hoping and praying that Steve would come to this reunion. And then shared his story.

Back in high school Steve and a friend led a Bible study for their friends. As can be expected, it was awkward and maybe not all that theologically sound. Steve never really saw any fruit. He was challenged as an “on fire” teenager to do something, this is what he faithfully did, he graduated high school, and he grew up.

Note to Millennials: Being challenged to be “on fire” for God and reaching your friends and high schools for Christ is not just something from the 1990s. This was a challenge to teens given by youth workers before you were born, going back all the way to the 1950s when a young guy named Billy Graham issued that challenge too.

30 years later Steve’s friend’s life was in total crisis. Many things had gone wrong and it was in the depths of his despair that he remembered some of the things Steve had taught him back in high school. This led him to find a church where he found his faith and found a way to do life better. It all hinged on remembering what Steve taught him 30 years prior! This is why he so desired to find Steve and tell him this after 5 years of living this better way to live.

There is an oft-quoted verse: So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11. This is that verse in full living color.

You never know. God is faithful when we have the faith to do something with our faith. As to the fruit, you just never know. Except get to know that somehow there will be fruit. This is how it works. Mostly we will find out the fruit on the other side in heaven. Yet my friend Steve got to find out about the fruit at a high school reunion–35 years later. Wow. You just never know. The story is not over!

Hope to this youth pastor’s soul. Yours too?