Last night, my four-plus years as Hazelwood’s youth pastor officially came to a close. I led my final night of worship with my Sola5 students, teaching about the immeasurable power, majesty, and glory of Christ from Revelation 19:11-21. As I stood before a great group of students, I was humbled that God would use me to speak his word into their lives. I never imagined that I’d be a youth pastor, and in fact when the Hazelwood job was first brought to my attention by my former pastor I laughed at him. How much has changed since then.
So much of what passes as youth ministry in our culture is little more than moralistic babysitting. This pattern always frustrated me, and made me skeptical about youth ministry’s usefulness. We seem to have this conception that teenagers aren’t particularly interested in the Bible, so we have to pretty it up with a ton of bells and whistles. Let me tell you with certainty - that is a lie. My teens not only were able to handle the weight and power of the Scriptures, they hungered for it. They didn’t want any punches pulled. As I taught them, week-by-week, from the Bible, they taught me much about being a follower of Christ. The majority of my students come from families that are not Christian and not connected to the church in any way, yet God has transformed them by the power of the gospel. I’ve watched a young man impact everyone he meets with God’s grace and lead countless people into the faith. I’ve watched a girl who was the group’s “problem child” when I arrived transformed into a passionate, thoughtful, and deep-minded follower of Christ. I’ve watched a group of students who wouldn’t sing to save their lives 3 years ago become a group who belts out 300-year old hymns with amazing passion and excitement. Plainly put, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when we get out of the way and let the word do the work.
I’m not a “gifted” youth pastor. I don’t relate particularly well to teenagers. I didn’t relate that well to them when I was one, much less now. And yet, God’s power is made perfect through weakness. What did I learn in four years at Hazelwood? The gospel is power. God transforms lives by his word. He’s in the business of using useless individuals like me to do amazing things. Grace is the single most powerful force in the universe, and God has hard-wired us to marvel at his story of redemption and echo it back to him in a million different ways. The power is not in the messenger, but with the message – and because of that reality, I can say with absolute confidence that if God used me in the lives of the teenagers at Sola5, he can use you. He can use you in the life of your spouse, the lives of your kids, the mission of your church, the people in your workplace. As my old professor Jim Orrick used to say, the gospel has the power of a thermonuclear bomb. Our best abilities are the equivalent to strapping a firecracker to the bomb and marveling at what an amazing addition it is to the equation. Get out of the way, let God work through you by his word, and you just might see him do some amazing, eternal things that will change you forever. I know I did.
To any of my crew that read this – I love you guys tremendously, and I’m so thankful that God brought you into my life. Press on in the faith, and know that the rider on the white horse has your back.
Soli Deo Gloria
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