this past sunday, i had the honor of giving the ordination service message for andy jack, middle school pastor at christ church of oak brook, outside chicago. here’s part 1 of what i said…
[a middle school girl read 1 samuel 3, the story of eli coaching young samuel to respond to the voice of god; then i retold the story to make sure all the middle schoolers who were at the ordination service understood the story and could see themselves in it.]
I’m not implying that Andy is like Eli and about to receive judgment from God! But what I DO want to suggest is that Andy is embodying this passage in many ways.
Except for marketers, who now see the incredible spending power and purchasing influence of young teens, most of our culture either ignores young teens, or merely views them as an annoyance. My experience with thousands of churches tells me that, even in churches with a robust ministry to young teens, it’s usually viewed with a bit of disdain – as a necessary holding tank until these in-between students can reach a maturity level that is more adult-like. Across the US, middle school ministry is regularly viewed as an unwanted stepchild.
At best, middle school students are often seen as an age group that needs preparation for a time when they can actually contribute to the church in ways other than carpet stains and noise.
I spend time with a lot of people who love middle schoolers. In fact, I spend time with a lot of people who actually like middle schoolers (sometimes it’s easier to love them, from a distance, and in a conceptual way, than it is to like them). I admit, it’s not every person who wakes up and thinks, “how can I spend time with middle schoolers today!?”
This is what makes Andy Jack unique. Middle School ministry is not a stepping-stone for Andy to some other kind of ministry that others might think is more legit. Andy is truly called to this wonderful and amazing group of students.
Here’s why Andy is like Eli: Andy actually believes that God speaks to and through young teens. Andy stakes his life and ministry on this. He’s not interested in babysitting, or creating a holding tank, or even in creating safe, compliant kids who will say the right things and act in culturally appropriate ways. Andy is passionate about connecting young teens with the revolutionary Jesus who wants to up-end their lives and lead them in a counter-cultural, non-compliant life of love and joining up with the active and present work of God in the world!
Where are the middle schoolers in here?
You guys rock! I believe, and I know Andy believes, that God is stoked about each and every one of you. And God wants to give your lives meaning, and passion, and purpose. God wants to grab hold of your hearts and minds, and see you transformed for God’s restoration work in the world.
And here’s the really, really cool thing: as we see with Samuel, God doesn’t think you need to wait until you’re older. God wants to mess you up NOW. God wants to speak to you NOW. God wants you to be change agents in the world, and in your own church.
Andy isn’t here to create fun programs for you – though you probably have lots of fun in the middle school ministry here. Andy isn’t here to keep you busy, or guilt you into acting a certain way, or keep you from hurting the fireside room [a room at this particular church that is especially protected and enshrined].
Andy is here to be your Eli – to coach you toward recognizing God’s voice. Andy is here so that, even when it feels like no one else believes in you, there’s one person that does. Andy wants to help the voice of God be heard through you to the rest of the church.