Young, inexperienced, ignorant, immature, and prone to failure. Full of zest, energy, passion, eagerness, and a zeal to do what is right. Add some wild, unexplored hormones, and mix a few street kids with some homeschoolers with overly protective parents. Put a pastor in charge who really is just paying his dues until he can be a senior pastor. Give it a name so cheesy that even Carmen wouldn’t include it in his 90’s lyrics, and what do you have?
High school youth group.
Yes, the best of times and the worst of times.
Biblical messages were often black and white, and if you saw Austin Powers, you were a bad Christian.
Most of us kissed dating goodbye and wore a purity ring or a WWJD bracelet but fooled around just enough to really learn what it meant to push the line, but we still sang on the worship team the next morning.
It’s not that we weren’t authentic. We weren’t faking anything. We knew what was pure, right, and true, but high school is hard. Growing up is challenging.
It’s an everyday bloom.
There’s so much to learn in such a short amount of time, and finding the balance of what you’re supposed to figure out on your own and what you’re just supposed to believe others about is a confusing task.
But there we were, trying our best to love God and serve others. Lifting each other back up after every wicked fall. Maybe that’s what church is all about. Yes, there was drama. People’s feelings got hurt, but we said sorry and got over it.
We were a family.
And like a family, there’s always that cousin who’s a little odd, and you may not really like him all that much, but you still love him.
Because no one should “go it alone”—a phrase I can still hear my youth pastor say in his calm, low voice.
We were also taught about sharing our faith, and it was in Christian vogue to paint “Ask Me” on our Jansport backpacks if we could find an empty space not covered in patches and buttons.
I’m not sure today how I feel about “evangelizing” to strangers. From my many experiences, I don’t feel the Hey, Can I Tell You About Jesus? approach is really that effective today in America. Tracks are a bad idea too; Jesus isn’t a product to sell, and we aren’t salesmen. It’s an honor to follow Christ. If someone can be talked into it, they can be talked out of it.
The best way to evangelize is to build relationships with people and let them see the light that is in you. Yes, it’s a lot easier to just walk up to a stranger and share with them the newest method of street evangelism, but Jesus says in Matthew to make disciples of all nations, not just tell everyone who he is.
It’s teaching versus telling.
I was only in high school, and I was in the telling phase then, so I would find people to tell about Jesus.
There was this custodian on my high school campus. Everyone saw him, but no one would ever talk to him. He was about 45 to 50. He had short, fading hair and a dirty looking mustache. He walked fast in short steps from side to side and kind of hunched over as if he had a minor back injury. The custodial grey uniforms didn’t help his style in any way. Wearing dusty grey on grey with tennis shoes from the early 90s that showed little evidence that they were ever white added to his overall appearance.
But he was the one I felt God told me to share Jesus with, so as he was changing the bag in one of the hallway trash cans, I went up to him and said hi and went on to tell him about Jesus.
In the back of my mind, I was thinking how my youth pastor would be proud of me.
The custodian said very kindly, “I know who Jesus is. He’s my savior and heavenly father. Everyone here may think I’m just cleaning up the campus, but I’m really silently praying for every one of you all day long.”
I responded, “That’s so awesome!”
He smiled and continued, “Thanks. I guess in a way, I’m an undercover sheep.”
From that moment on, I always made sure to say hi to him, and the band I was in at the time even wrote a song after him titled “Undercover Sheep.” It was really just a simple cord progression, punk rock song where the whole band yelled the words “undercover sheep” every so often, but it was fun.
That day I learned more from a custodian than from a pastor. I learned something that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
I learned that you don’t have to be in what some people call “fulltime ministry” to be in fulltime ministry.