at a recent speaking event, i met the granddaughter of a man–the former choir director of the church i grew up in–who had a huge impact on my life and vocation. it got me thinking about the small handful of significant moments that played out-sized roles in my calling to youth ministry.
i thought of four moments, more than any teaching i ever heard or discipleship program or retreat or any other aspect of youth ministry programming, that i can still clearly remember to this day.
the second of these took place the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. the two youth pastors at my church, at that time, were gary hopwood (who, with his wife, has been a tent-maker of sorts in china for a number of years — here’s a post about having coffee with them in beijing in 2011) and steve andrews (now the senior pastor of kensington community church in the detroit area). gary was the high school pastor, and steve was, at that point, the junior high pastor (later that year, steve became the high school pastor, and continued to play a huge role in my life).
really, once i decided, part way through my senior year, that engineering was not for me, and that i was supposed to go into youth ministry, i chose wheaton college only because gary and steve had both attended there.
(sidebar: wheaton’s acceptance percentages are brutal, and i didn’t initially make the cut. i was put on a “it’s really likely not to happen” sort of waiting list. but steve was college buddies with the admissions director at the time, and after a phone call, i was suddenly bumped up to a “you’ll probably get in” waiting list, and a few weeks later received a “congratulations, you’re admitted!” letter in the mail. and i’ve been relying on good luck, timely endorsements, and the grace of god ever since.)
back to the story: gary and steve lived together in a fairly small apartment. as gifted as these guys were at youth ministry, their tiny apartment was not a hotbed of youth ministry activity. i’d never been there, and wasn’t aware that any of my friends had been there either.
but gary and steve invited me to their apartment for lunch. there was no agenda. we didn’t have a bible study. they didn’t speak a bunch of challenge or encouragement into my life (at least not that i remember). it was merely casual conversation around sandwiches, nothing more.
at least it was nothing more than that on the surface. but to me, it was a life-shaping moment. just as i experienced when the choir director invited me to ride with him and his wife in his car, i was invited into the world of adults. i wasn’t treated like a kid. they conversed with me, casually, like i belonged there, like there was nothing out-of-the-ordinary at all about the three of us having lunch in their home.
i don’t remember one word of the conversation. but i have vividly clear memories of what i felt. and, along with other moments and shaping forces, it altered the trajectory of my life.
youth workers: draw your own implications. they’re fairly obvious.