Thursday, April 24, 2008

Love God - Love People - Lesson Learned Series

Ever since 2004 the month of May has been a bitter sweet month for me. On the one hand May 2004 was the most amazing month I have ever seen in my Youth Ministry career and at the same time one of the most difficult as well.

May 2004 began a series of reflections for me as a Youth Pastor, that have continued on to this day, especially as I pause and contemplate the whole idea of leaving a legacy that will continue to draw people to a relationship with Jesus.

To fully grasp the events of the May 2004, you need to understand that as a Youth Pastor I’ve been trained on various tools and techniques that work in the world of teenagers, and in many ways am viewed in the church context as the “resident professional” when it comes to reaching teens for Jesus. Whether it’s a fair assumption or not the Youth Pastor is usually perceived as the “hired gun”, “top dog”, “answer guy” or whatever label you want to put on him. He’s the guy who gets “the big bucks”, so he must have it all together…Right?

Now I believe that Youth Pastors need to be trained to do the very best job they can in understanding and reaching out to youth culture with the truths of Jesus, but it has always bothered me that many times in church circles the volunteer youth leaders are often overlooked, and underappreciated because after all they don’t have the piece of parchment from Bible College X hanging on their wall.

I’m only one guy with a small sphere of influence, if all the gifts, talents, abilities, resources and energies that are represented on the team are funneled in my direction to help me reach my sphere of influence, that’s a waste isn’t it?

So, all that to say, I’ve always been about doing ministry on a team that is passionate about who they are in Christ, and passionate about loving students in the name of Christ.

Insert a ministry we started at my former church called Hang Time.

Hang Time was a ministry that began out of a seminar I did with our core students on spiritual gifts and personality styles. The seminar was all about turning the mirror on ourselves to discover how God had designed us, and then asking the question “how does God want me to use my design for Him?”

One of the students at the seminar named John came up to me at the end and basically said “Pastor Brent according to this seminar I learned a bunch of big terms and concepts, but to me the bottom line is I love to skate, I’m good at skating, I love my friends, and I want them to know Jesus, what should I do with that?”

It wasn’t long and the answer to John’s question became very obvious to us. Build a skate park that is led by a student who is a skater that also has a passion to reach his fellow skater friends for Jesus. So, that’s what we did. We basically opened up our facility and made our trash cans, orange cones, metal pipes and our broken pool table from the game room available to the skaters to come and do their stuff on…we had a skate park!

Hang Time was built on this motto, “No-one else wants you to skate…We do! You’re welcome here, it’s not much but all we have is yours…enjoy Hang Time!”

It didn’t take long and the small beginnings of a student who wanted to be obedient to God’s design for him started to see his friends coming out week after week to skate, hang out, laugh, listen to music, eat pizza and have meaningful conversations on a quarter pipe with volunteer youth leaders, and fellow student leaders who loved God and loved people.
Hang Time was fulfilling its purpose.
Insert a volunteer youth leader named Larry.
Larry was the guy on our team who was always behind the scenes, he loved doing things that enabled the “up front” leaders in our ministry to have the opportunity to share Jesus with the skaters. He did things like, set up and tear down skate ramps each week (Hang Time grew to the point where we invested in making some sweet ramps), stirring large coolers of lemonade, Cool-aid, and iced tea for the guests, ordering and picking up large quantities of pizza and snacks and basically doing everything and anything that needed to be done behind the scenes so that the skaters not only felt welcomed, but also knew their presence was vitally important to us!

Hang Time worked like this…skaters would show up and have the options of skating indoors or outdoors on our ramps, hanging out in our game room and listen to music, play video games, plug in their guitars and rock out or just sit with friends and talk. Then about halfway through the evening usually about 7pm we would take a break and everyone would gather around the “fun box” which was the best ramp we had, and was the center point of the ramp configuration.

At the fun box, I would gather everyone to do the one “spiritual” thing we did at Hang Time each week…ask God to bless the food, the FREE FOOD that we were about to devour (I’m serious one time there were like 300 skaters at Hang Time, and I personally witnessed 25 large pizzas disappear in like 3 minutes!). The whole food thing was based on this concept…it’s free, because God’s love for you is free!

As the weeks went on, I started asking if any of the skaters had any prayer requests that they wanted me to offer on their behalf before I thanked Him for the food. I would always say some thing like “ok, guys we’re going to talk to God for a second and thank Him for the food, does anyone want me to mention some stuff on your behalf, while I’m talking to him?” I remember one day one of the skaters mentioned that his friend was in a serious car accident, and another mentioned that a friend was sick, and before you knew it, not only were we thanking God for food we were bringing requests to Him.

It was so cool because it gave me an opportunity to tell them “you know guys, I’m more than happy to talk to God on your behalf, but you know what, you don’t really need me to do it, you can do it on your own.” The early seeds of God’s desire for relationship were being planted in the minds of our skaters.

Week after week we would do this, then once a quarter we would bring in some bands, do a competition, do demos or whatever we could think of to take Hang Time to another level with the skaters. We would always promote in advance that at the event someone was going to share their life change story. We did this so they didn’t view Hang Time as a “bait & switch” deal.

It was at one of these quarterly events where we brought in some Christian pro-skaters who were in our city doing a show at the civic center that week. They had heard about Hang Time and asked if they could come and do some stuff and skate with the kids. It was at that demo where the events of May 2004 became bitter sweet for me.

The pro-skaters did their thing, the tricks and jumps were amazing, and they definitely had the attention of the Han
g Time crowd. Then the leader of the skate troop asked everyone to gather around the fun box and have seat on their boards for a minute. I looked around the building and there were skaters everywhere sitting down and listening to this guy who had grabbed their attention with his abilities. He then went on to tell his story of faith, and how he had accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation. It was incredible to watch him be so honest and open with guys who totally related to him. At the end of his talk he said, “So if any of you would like to know this Jesus I just told you about, and would like to invite him into your life, just get on your board and ride to the middle!”

It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in ministry, there were about 350 skaters there that night and our best count was that 60 of them rode to the middle and responded to the invitation to receive Christ!

Larry and I were in the back of the gym in tears! This is what it was all about; this is why we worked so hard at providing a place for John’s friends. It was a great moment for our team.

That was May 3rd, 2004. On May 8th we rented a bus and took a bunch of the skaters to the civic center to see the demo and 10 more skaters accepted the invitation that was given that night as well. We were on a major high in our ministry.

At this point you’re probably thinking that is all sweet, I thought you said May 2004 was bitter as well.

Insert Larry’s legacy.

What I didn’t mention was the fact that Larry not only had kidney problems where he needed to go for dialysis treatment each week, but also had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Larry was dying, in fact the Hang Time on May 3rd was his last Hang Time, he was admitted to the hospital a couple days later and wasn’t given long to live.

I went to visit Larry, and man what a great time of praising God we had, I mean we had just seen over 70 skaters accept Jesus in a week! Talk about a miracle!

We spent a long time together reminiscing about all the missions trips, pizza parties, all nighters and Bible studies, but then Larry said to me “Brent, this week at Hang Time, I want you to share my story with the skaters, tell them what I was like before Jesus and what I was like after…make sure you tell them that I love them, and want nothing more than to have them know Jesus like I do…tell them that I know where I’m going when I die, and want them to know for sure as well…tell them my story!”

Talk about a heavy load. I hugged him, and told him I loved him, and was so thankful that I had the honor of serving the Lord with him, we prayed together, and I left his room…for the last time.

On May 15th, 2004 Larry went home to be with the Lord, and in doing so left a legacy that was as simple and yet complex as Larry himself. In my mind Larry’s legacy was Love God, Love people!

On May 17th, 2004 the skaters showed up for Hang Time just like they had done every week for the last 4 years, and on this night we welcomed about 70 new followers of Jesus, and at halftime I asked everyone to gather around the “fun box” and for the next period of time I shared the news about Larry, and told his story.

The place was silent; you could’ve heard a pin drop. I saw hardened and streetwise skaters openly crying because they loved Larry so much, and were sad to see him go. At the end of the talk I closed with a simple invitation to anyone who would like to know the assurance of faith in Jesus that Larry knew to come talk to any of the leaders. That night we saw about 20 more skaters put their faith in Christ!

What a month, 90 skaters put their faith in Jesus Christ…90...SKATERS!
So, as I think about May 2004 it is with mixed emotion, but it is also with the reality that God isn’t just looking for the “American Idol” youth leader. You know what I mean, cute, fun, popular, good singer, excellent communicator. No He’s looking for Larry’s who live a legacy of Love God, Love People, and he’s looking for students like John who say, I’m good at ___________ and I love my friends, what can God do with that?
He’s looking for us to know who we are in Christ, embrace it, and then passionately and authentically Love God and Love People.
Lesson Learned

1 comment:

  1. hey, that blog made me sad and happy all at once. that was a great year for our ministry and very sad as well when Larry pasted away. so far this is one of my favorite blogs that you have writen. keep up the great work brent. God is doing amazing things in your life.