This is the fifth article in our series, “Here I am. Send me!” We learn in Isaiah 6 that only after the prophet is totally convicted of his own sin and failures, met by God’s perfect love and might, can he go forth as a true servant. This is nothing new to us in ministry. We see daily how the Lord has used our past trials, our insufferable weakness, to allow His strength to shine forth in our work. In this series, we’ve asked a few courageous souls to tell us how their particular hardships have prepared them perfectly as servants of the Lord. Read the fourth article here.
On August 9th 2012, I lost my dad to cancer.
People say that there is a fear above all other fears that you hope never actually happens – mine was losing my dad. My dad was loving, constant, faithful, and (other than the Lord) my greatest encouragement. Thus when he died, the loss had many affects on me, one in particular that I wasn’t prepared for.
Usually when a crisis hits a person they respond in one of two ways. Some people deal with the entire event then and there, letting all emotion and pain out so they’re able to eventually move on in a healthy way. On the other hand, when I lost my father, I did what I had to do to get through the initial pain, and then wrestled with it on the back end, not even crying until many days later. Interestingly enough, at the time of my dad’s passing, a church in another state was calling me to come serve as their student and college pastor. My family felt very confident that the Lord wanted us to go there. So after my dad passed away, we moved all of our belongings and left everyone we knew to answer this new calling.
As I began to grieve the loss of my dad for the first time, while also trying to be as fruitful and productive as I could in my new ministry, it was not but a year down the road that my wife looked at me and told me I had changed.
I was not all too surprised, knowing very well that many people change somewhat when they go through losing a loved one, like we had both done. My wife continued on, saying that she noticed how much I had changed, specifically in my approach to youth ministry. To be honest, I really had no idea what she meant. From my perspective, I’d been going about ministry just as I had for the last ten years. She told me how serious I had become in preaching and in discipleship, especially when it came to youth ministry – that I was less relaxed and goofy around my students.
This was almost alarming and discouraging to me at first. I had set a burden on myself to be relatable, funny, a real goofball around my students in order to be…well…a “good” youth minister. My wife went into detail about how my preaching was now very focused on the reality of God and His majesty and glory like never before.
She was really telling me that the days of trying to be Mr. Youth Entertainer were dead and gone.
My wife and I have talked about it many times since that initial conversation, and I do believe that losing my dad had a drastic shift on the way that I approach ministry.
I don’t feel the urge to be anything other than serious with people and their relationship with Christ, because of how real I know eternity truly is. The truth is, unless the Lord returns first, we and everyone around us have a funeral to attend: our own. Acknowledging this in a real way has given me a new sort of drive, to focus on what is truly going on in the heart of a teenager, and get past the fluff that students can sometimes use as a guard. As it turns out, students crave someone to talk to about real life: they want real, eternal answers to their complex questions of the heart.
I realize now that the most important job of a youth minister is not just to entertain my students in order to relate to them. Rather, it is critical that someone be so involved in a teen’s life that they take the time to share life with them, in the person of Jesus. It is so important that we not shy away from speaking of these critical, weighty, life-giving matters.
Every single time I get up to preach now, I look at the front of the church and see my dad’s casket in my mind. I think of the day I preached at his funeral. I think of where he is now. Simply put, death brings us back to the ultimate reality of who we are and who God is. Whether we are pastors, parents, or leaders it is a privilege to be overwhelmed by the reality of what God has done for us: He sacrificed His son on the cross in our place, so that we get to be with Him in heaven one day.
The Apostle Paul’s ministry had a real heavenly focus in the daily life of his ministry. He said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinth. 2:2). Having this “big picture drive” in the mind and heart of every follower of Christ is imperative as we understand what really matters in this world.
I have learned that there are many days in ministry when I can get so distracted, thinking that today is just another day to cruise and coast through. I’m sure you’ve all bee there. This temptation must be fought against with everything we have, as we remember that eternity hangs in the balance. Nothing helped me understand this more than living out my greatest fear.