Bad Judgment, Detached Retinas, and a Lot of Stupid
I remember when I was 18-years-old and it first dawned upon me, “If I become a youth pastor, I’ll get to play dodge-ball for the rest of my life!” That was twenty years ago and I’m still in youth ministry and loving it. The past few summers we’ve had students visit us who were a part of our ministry over those twenty-some years, and each time, inevitably, the stories start coming. The stories of God working are my favorite, but the students seem to like telling and retelling the times that I made a fool of myself or the times I got in trouble. I just sit there cringing and think, “Man, was I stupid!”
I was 23-years-old and in my first full-time ministry position. My intern, and fellow driver, was my best friend from elementary school. We were heading out of L.A. and began racing through traffic, trying to beat each other to the condos we had rented for the weekend. Not only was this dangerous, but we had a mom following us (and my wife was sitting in the van with her). I remember “mom” making us pull off to the side of the road and yelling at us in front of all of the students. Thanks to “mom” (you know who you are) for that much needed lecture, but talk about humiliating.
Then there was the time I had one of our volunteers hide in the false ceiling of the youth room with a fire extinguisher full of water. With a loud crash, he dropped out of the sky, made a perfect landing on the stage, and hosed everyone down. We found out later that one of the students had to be rushed to the doctor for fear of a detached retina. He had been squirted in the eyeball at point-blank range. Oops.
Or how about my first parents meeting? I spoke to a room full of amazing parents who sat there listening to me go on and on as if I knew, at 23, how to parent teenagers. I remember this gracious mom coming up to me afterwards and saying, “Brock, you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!” The funny thing is, I didn’t. I had never raised a child, and I had never lived full-time with a 13-year-old. As the parent of a teen now, I am a much better youth worker.
I remember one year I went to the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention and heard Tony Campolo use the “S” word. I thought he was so cool, so I decided to pull that one out for our youth group back home. Let me just say this: 12 and 13-year-olds tell their parents everything we youth workers do—especially if it will shock their parents. Campolo was much more effective than I was. The next day my pastor called me in for a meeting that was a huge wake up call.
But the one story that takes the cake was when I was asked to speak at a local Christian high school. The topic they wanted me to speak on was “personal responsibility.” Maybe you already got this, but “personal responsibility” hasn’t always been my strong suit. So, my wife and I headed out to this school that I had never been to, with directions written on a napkin by a 15-year-old student. Needless to say, we got lost. With about ten minutes left until I was supposed to speak, and knowing that we were a good twenty minutes away, I started to speed. I remember my wife saying, “Brock, if you get a ticket, I am going to kill you.” My response was, “Baby, we’re fine. There’s no way I’ll get a ticket.” Then, to my surprise, flashing lights were in the rear view mirror and a siren was blasting behind the car. We pulled over and the police officer walked up to my wife’s side of the car, so she rolled down her window. He pointed at me and said, “Get out of the car buddy, you’re going to jail! We’ve been chasing you for ten minutes on both sides of the freeway and you’re in big trouble.” My wife started crying, and not just little tears. She was balling her eyes out, and furious to boot. I got out of the car and the officer reached for his handcuffs. In a shaky voice I said, “Sir, please don’t arrest me. I’m a youth pastor and I’m supposed to speak at a Christian school down the road on ‘personal responsibility.’ Please don’t take me to jail. PLEASE!” God was with me that day, my friends. He paused for a second, put his cuffs away, and said, “Get back in your car.” My wife took one look at me and with evil in her eyes, slugged me right in the gut. The officer wrote me a ticket and gave me directions to the school. I walked in, still shaking, as the worship band finished their last song. I got on the stage and talked about the importance of being responsible, with a great analogy, I might add. How ironic.
I am one of those youth workers who has had to learn the hard way. But I can tell you this, I love students and I love seeing Jesus change their lives. I’ve just found I need to get out of the way a bit and let him have his way with them. And if God can use me, he can use anyone.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.