Dear Youth Pastor,
You might think that I’ve forgotten you—hung you on the dusty shelves of my teenage mind and shut the closet door. You might be tempted to believe I’ve forgotten all the trips you took us on, the countless fire-side devotionals. Maybe you think I didn’t notice all the Spirit-led prayers and the tangible means of grace you poured into me as a teenager. Maybe it seems that I’ve mentally disposed of the verses you had us memorize or the endless hours you spent relaying the gospel in a way that pierced the hearts of teenagers who were more worried about the cut of their jeans than the wreckage of their sins.
You might think I didn’t notice, but I did. You might think I’ve forgotten, but I haven’t.
I remember how you stuck it out with us on Friday nights until nearly 11:00 playing cards, not because you loved Egyptian Rat Slap, but because you loved us and wanted us to have a safe place to fulfill the infinite teenage desire for non-stop socializing. This taught me that you were willing to sacrifice your comfort for our good. I remember this as I rise early and am drenched in a thunderstorm headed to lead a small group of college girls on a Thursday morning.
I recount how, even as a “good kid,” I still longed for attention and how I sought to get it in less-than-desirable ways (in other words, I could be annoying). I remember how you never once made me feel less-than, never scolded me for my high-pitched squeals or silly questions.
Instead, you always sought to include me. That showed me I didn’t have to wrongly seek attention, because you genuinely saw me. You saw through my squeals to the real me, who longed to be known and loved. When I am tempted to snap at the kindergartener I nanny as she embarrasses me in public, I remember your response to me. I attempt to mimic you, your tone and deep eye contact that saw into my soul, the way you mimicked Christ.
I recall frosty Tuesday mornings when my brain was still trying to catch up to the clock, and you challenged us to memorize Ephesians 4. Maybe you thought you were asking too much of us, but “Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received…” played in the back of my mind as I walked the halls of my high school throughout the week, infusing my bones with hope. I still remember this verse and repeat it to myself on days when I am tempted to act in a way that is unworthy of my calling.
I remember when you asked me to lead a devotional, and as a spirited and poetic teenager, I chose to lead from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. You ever-so gently explained to me that it was a paraphrase, not a translation. Still, you could tell I was embarrassed not to know this, and you showed me it was non-essential in this matter. You led with a gentle, wise, and long-suffering hand when it came to my spiritual growth, and I loved and respected you for it. You were a soft and safe place to land. I recall this when I am tempted to push the young women I disciple into progress.
I noticed how you treated your wife, how you sincerely apologized for late nights and how you worked beside her in the kitchen. You taught me that leadership, both in the church and in the home, was humble and servant-minded. As a girl whose heart was drawn to the sensational, loud, rambunctious boys, you showed me that humility in a spouse was a gift, and it wasn’t too much to ask for. Your actions were a guiding hand, introducing me to kind manhood. I broke ties with those boys eventually, said my forever goodbyes to the charm that deceives and immaturity, in hopes of something better and sweeter, a relationship which was at least a bit more holy. The Lord was faithful to honor this. I remember this as my sudsy hands pass my husband the dishes, and he loads them with care.
Most vividly, I remember that regular Wednesday night, sitting on the edge of the squishy brown couch in the youth room, the chalkboard screeching as you drew a simple diagram explaining God’s righteousness, our sinfulness, and the price Christ paid. That Wednesday night would be a turning point in my life. That diagram changed everything, setting fireworks off in my soul. That day I decided to follow Jesus, never to look back, all because of the Spirit’s work of simple obedience in my youth pastor.
Ten years since I was introduced to true grace, now pouring into college students myself, and watching my husband pour into teenagers, I realize more than ever how high and difficult this calling is.
In the difficulty, I remember a God who honors even the smallest of the sown seeds. All the smallest ways you loved us stuck and they grew, even if it was ever-so slowly. The work of the Spirit through you in simple love coupled with a bold proclamation of the gospel didn’t just change my life—it changed my eternity.
And it changed the eternity of the girl I met and introduced to Christ at my high school, and the eternity of the people to whom she has witnessed, and the eternity of the people with whom they share the gospel, too, and so on until the end of the age.
I first knew how to proclaim the gospel to her and others, in both word and deed, because you did that for me. I lead gently because you did. I first knew patience because you were patient.
Those memories formed and shaped me then, and they are still forming me and others to this day.
When you left our youth group for another calling, I shared Philippians 1:3-7a, 8-10 with you:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace… And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Your ministry reached far beyond my youth. It infused my adulthood with grace and love, and the memory of it still leads me as I walk into eternity.
To this day, I still thank my God in all my remembrance of you.
From your grown up youth group kid.