Last month our senior pastor Carlton Harris preached a vision-casting sermon based on Ephesians 2:14-22. This passage stresses how Christ created a new humanity out of two cultures (the Jews and the Gentiles) that were previously incompatible with each other. “For he himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … (v. 14).”
College Avenue Baptist Church is strategically situated in a part of San Diego where many cultures, not just two, converge. We have people from almost every country in the world living within a few blocks of the church. So a major part of our church’s vision is to be cross-cultural, to find ways to “make disciples of the nations” right here at home.
In his sermon, Pastor Harris went on to apply this passage in another way. He challenged our church to not only become more cross-cultural, but more “cross-generational” as well. He emphasized that being cross-generational is very different from being multi-generational. Any church can be multi-generational, he said, but it takes a special kind of church to be cross-generational. In a cross-generational church, the dividing wall of hostility is broken down between the generations and these very different cultures (young and old) are not only at peace with each other but actively participating together in worship, community and ministry. “Our aim is for College Avenue Baptist Church to be a cross-generational church” he emphasized, and he gave examples of how we are striving to do that in our programs and ministries.
This is the vision that drew me to CABC five years ago. I have been serving the church since then as Pastor to Generations, doing my best to help bring that vision to fruition. We have accomplished a few things but still have a long way to go.
I was intrigued by Pastor Harris’ use of the term “cross-generational” to describe what we are doing at the church. For years I have used the term intergenerational to say essentially the same thing. Others have used it too. In their book Intergenerational Christian Formation, authors Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross take several pages to discuss how the term intergenerational is defined and why it is preferred over terms like multi-generational (for the same reasons Pastor Harris pointed out) and transgenerational, which some people use. But they never consider the term cross-generational at all.
I think cross-generational has a nice ring to it–especially when used in the church. What do you think?
Jeff Palmberg is a pastor in Washington who also likes to draw caricatures. Occasionally he randomly caricature-bombs people just to make them smile. I certainly got a kick out of the one he sent to me.
If you would like Jeff to do a custom caricature for you (or someone you know), he has a Facebook page called JP’s Custom Caricatures. Check it out.
Our pastor is fond of saying that Sunday morning begins Saturday night. I learned that same idea as a child growing up in a home where we always took Saturday night baths, shined our shoes, pressed our shirts and generally got everything ready for church the next morning. I no longer concern myself with pressed shirts and shined shoes but I do at least try to get into bed at a decent hour on Saturday night so that there will be less chance of my falling asleep during the pastor’s sermon in the morning. And my evening prayers always include a prayer for the pastor and the other worship leaders on Sunday morning. I pray also for my own heart, that I can set aside my expectations of what worship ought to be and enter fully into the singing, the sermon and the other elements of worship. You see, that has been a big problem for me. I often have difficulty entering fully into worship because of my expectations for what worship ought to be. This is not a criticism of my church or any other church. It is just a recognition that my expectations have become problematic, a real hindrance to me. Here are some of them:
I expect that worship leaders will direct my attention to God, not to themselves.
I expect that worship will not be a performance by the singers and musicians no matter how talented they are. I expect that the congregation is not an audience and that the sanctuary or “worship center” is not a concert hall. At least, not on Sunday mornings.
I expect that most of the songs and hymns will be songs that I am familiar with, or at least songs that have singable keys and somewhat predictable melody lines.
I expect that when we DO sing a song I’m familiar with (like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”) it will still have the same words and melody I remember.
I expect that when the worship leader introduces a new song, he or she will take some time to help the congregation learn it rather than just showing off how well he or she knows it.
I expect that the songs we sing will be about God, not so much about me.
I expect the songs we sing to have good (or at least acceptable) theology.
I expect the songs we sing to have inspiring lyrics. Songs that include words like “wanna” and “woahhhhh” don’t inspire too much.
I expect that the song lyrics will be available to me and others in the congregation in some form or another at the appropriate time, not five seconds after the lyrics have been sung.
I expect that the worship leader understands that not everyone can remain standing for more than 15 or 20 minutes if they are over the age of 30.
I’ll stop there. Those are just some of the annoying expectations I have of worship which sometimes become stumbling blocks for me. It’s hard to give them up, but maybe that’s what I need to do.
Let me just say that most Sundays I am able to worship without my expectations ruining things for me. I’m grateful for the talented worship leaders who serve in our church week after week and do the best they can to provide a worship experience that includes and involves everyone. I do look forward to attending worship each week and most of the time it’s easy to focus on God and worship with the rest of our congregation.
But now and then, those annoying expectations rear their ugly heads.
What are your thoughts? What are some of your expectations in worship?
On Wednesday morning April 30th, Marci and I woke up to discover that our giant 100-year-old (or more) eucalyptus tree in our back yard had fallen down. We assumed it must have fallen during the night, although we didn’t hear a thing. Turns out it fell down sometime during the day before and we just didn’t notice it the night before. One of our neighbors told us it went down around 10am on Tuesday and it made plenty of noise.
The tree is (was) over 150 feet tall and very bushy. Apparently there was some root rot going on and the tree just couldn’t stand up to the wind storm that we had on Tuesday (“Santa Ana” winds). Fortunately, the tree fell away from the house, but it landed squarely in our swimming pool. It crushed the shed containing all our pool equipment and demolished most of the landscaping in our back yard.
I tried to climb up on the fallen tree just to assess the damage and ended up falling into the tree and cutting my leg badly. I went to urgent care and got it stitched up and decided to call in some professionals to see if they could remove the tree.
Two weeks and several thousand dollars later, our barren back yard looks like a bomb went off back there … but at least the tree is gone and I can get to the pool which is now a mosquito-breeding swamp. I’ve called some expert pool people to help me clean it up. It is really a mess.
When I was finally able to get into the pool shed, I discovered that all the pool equipment was destroyed completely as I expected, but a stack of plastic lawn chairs survived. I removed them from what was left of the shed and put them on the concrete deck next to our swamp. “We can save these chairs, at least,” I thought to myself.
Not more than two hours later, I was in the house when I heard another crashing sound in the back yard. I ran out and discovered that a large branch from another eucalyptus tree (which had been sideswiped by the first tree) had fallen to the ground … right on top of those plastic lawn chairs. I have to admit … that made me laugh.
So, I am learning … more and more these days … that you can’t get too attached to your possessions or your money. God gives and he takes away. All things are in his hands and no matter what happens, we can always give thanks. Right how we are just so thankful that the tree didn’t fall towards the house.
If you would like to see some more photos of our “great tree disaster,” click here.
August, 2015 — Our son Nate looked up our house on Google Earth (a year and a half later) and this is the screenshot that he found:
I just finished reading Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilbum and I must say I hated reaching the book’s end, not just because it ends with Cash’s death but because it was such a terrific read. Hilburn is a wonderful writer (music critic and editor for the Los Angeles Times for over 30 years) and he really knows how to tell a story. From what I understand, this book is the definitive biography of Cash (over 600 pages long) and it is brutally honest, well-researched and intimately detailed. It’s not a celebrity tell-all book that makes you feel like you need a shower after reading it, however. Hilburn wrote it with the full cooperation of Cash’s children as well as the Man in Black himself who told the author that “he wanted people to know his entire story—especially the dark, guilt-ridden, hopeless moments—because he believed in redemption and he wanted others to realize that they too could be redeemed regardless how badly they had stumbled.”
Mr. Hilburn, himself a secular journalist, weaves Cash’s faith in Christ—inconsistent and contradictory as it was—into the storyline throughout the book. It begins with a picture of young J.R. (he didn’t become “Johnny” until after he started making records) attending church with his family “every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. Unlike other kids who complained about having to go to church, he looked forward to the music, the sermons and the sense of community.” Hilburn writes that although Cash’s pledge of fidelity in “I Walk the Line” (“Because you’re mine … I walk the line”) was undeniably inspired by his love for his first wife, Vivian (whom he would eventually leave for June Carter), he adds that Cash often spoke of the song as an expression of his allegiance to Christ as well. In fact, Cash called the song “his first gospel hit.” I’ve listened to that song hundreds of times and never made that connection. The book is full of interesting revelations like that.
Johnny Cash has become much better known for his dark side, however—his addictions, his moral failures, his frequent run-ins with the law, and his famous “one-finger salute” photo that went viral after it was featured on a full-page ad in Billboard magazine. According to Hilburn, the photo was taken at Cash’s 1969 concert at San Quentin prison. Apparently, Cash was fed up with the TV crew following him around and decided to send them a little message. The subsequent photo of a snarling Cash flashing his middle finger at the camera was acquired years later by Cash’s record producer Rick Rubin who decided to use it on the Billboard ad in 1998 after Cash’s album “Unchained” won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album. The caption read “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.” (The joke, of course, was that country radio and the Nashville music establishment snubbed the album altogether.) “Cash was uneasy about the ad,” writes Hilburn, “so he called Billy Graham to ask for advice.” Graham’s response? According to Cash, “He didn’t tell me what to do or not to do, just that he wouldn’t judge me either way. After my talk with him, I prayed about it and called Rick back. I gave him the go-ahead.”
I have to say that my opinion of Billy Graham went up after I read that story.
One reason I wanted to read this book is because I have had a couple of personal encounters with Johnny Cash and actually got to work with him when I was in the group Brush Arbor. We played a couple of concerts with Cash in 1973 and we also appeared on a TV special that he did for NBC. I must admit that I checked the table of contents of Hilburn’s book to see if by any chance we got a mention. We didn’t.
We didn’t deserve one of course. That TV show which aired in January 1974 wasn’t a significant part of Cash’s legacy, but it certainly was a highlight of Brush Arbor’s career. We flew from San Diego to New York for the taping of the show which was done at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center. In a classic case of being too self preoccupied to pay much attention to what was going on around me, I’m sure I spent most of the time in our dressing room practicing banjo rolls rather than soaking in the part of history I was getting to witness up close and personal. Besides Cash and his ensemble (the Tennessee Three, the Statler Brothers, June Carter, The Carter Family, Mother Maybelle Carter, his daughters Rosanne and Rosie, etc.), Bill Monroe was on the show as was Tanya Tucker, Larry Gatlin and Carl Perkins. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished I knew then what I know now. And I also wish I my camera hadn’t been stolen on that trip. I left it in our dressing room while we were taping the show and when I got back, it was gone. So I have no pictures of our time in New York City with Johnny Cash.
But I have some good memories, like the night we went out to dinner with Cash and his family at a famous Italian Restaurant in New York called Mama Leone’s. There were about 15 of us as I recall at the table: Cash and his family, Larry Gatlin and us. After we ordered our meal, I got up to use the restroom. At the back of the restaurant where the restrooms were located, one of the waiters asked me (in a strong Italian accent), “Excuse-a me. Is-a that-a Johnny Carson at your table?” I thought that was hilarious and when I got back to the table I remember Cash got a kick out of it too.
My camera may have been stolen, but thanks to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I do have video of the performance we did on the that TV Show:
And here’s a photo of us with Cash that was taken by our manager Dan McKinnon. Speaking of one finger salutes, it appears that I (yes, that’s me in the upper left hand corner) was sending an unintentional message of my own.
Back to the book. One aspect of Cash’s life that resonated strongly with me throughout the book was Cash’s determination to keep going, his perseverance. He was strongly committed to his music, his family and his faith and he never gave up on any of them even though he failed miserably and made disastrous personal and professional decisions. He never gave up on his musical career even after it had deteriorated to the point that he was in the mid 1990’s performing in Branson to half-empty showrooms of disinterested blue-haired tourists. I remember seeing Johnny Cash around that same time with a bewildered look on his face standing in a small exhibit hall table at the Christian Booksellers Convention, hawking Bibles for Thomas Nelson. How the mighty have fallen, I thought at the time. But Cash kept on going. Late in life, he finally kicked his pill habit and his sagging career was ultimately revived by rap producer Rick Rubin, the man responsible for some of Cash’s best work, including “Hurt,” the haunting song (and video) that introduced Cash to a whole new generation of listeners. Suddenly he became an international star again.
On a side note, I think it would be wonderful if everyone had a Rick Rubin in his or her life—someone younger and smarter who could bring the best out in us when we get old and stuck.
Rejuvenated as he was, he continued to write songs and record through heart surgeries, neurological problems, a damaged jaw and failing eyesight. He even continued working after his beloved wife June Carter passed away in May 2003. He died four months later at the age of 71. By then, according to one estimate, doctors had him on some 30 medications.
His son, John Carter, later said: “I believe the thing about Dad that people find so easy to relate to is that he was willing to expose his most cumbersome burdens, his most consuming darknesses. He wasn’t afraid to go through the fire and say: ‘I fell down. I’ve made mistakes. I’m weak. I hurt.’ But in doing so, he gained some sort of defining strength. Every moment of darkness enabled him to better see the light.”
I have been busy organizing another intergenerational mission trip to Ensenada BC Mexico for College Avenue Baptist Church this summer. We’re calling it MexiGO! 2014 and once again, we’ll be working with YUGO Ministries out of their Ensenada Outreach Center. We’ll build homes for families who live in poverty and we’ll give neighborhood children a fun week of games, crafts and Bible stories as we conduct Vacation Bible School at the local iglesia. The date is August 3-8, 2014 (Sunday through Friday) and we’d love for you to consider going with us. You don’t have to speak Spanish, you don’t have to know anything about construction and you don’t have to be a member of CABC. I’m encouraging families in our church to consider trading their usual vacation week at the resort or amusement park for a week of ministry in Mexico.
For more than 20 years, I have conducted ministry trips to Mexico for youth groups (teenagers) but these intergenerational trips (adults and kids together) are the best by far. It’s such an amazing thing to watch parents and kids, young and old people working side-by-side and discovering together how rewarding it is to serve Christ by serving others. If you want to pass your faith and values on to your kids, this is a great way to do it.
Here’s a short promo video for the trip:
One of the students appearing in the video, 13-year old Sarah Ziegler, wrote a paper about her Mexico experience and gave me permission to reprint it here:
More Powerful Than Montezuma’s Revenge
Lifting the beanbag toss game off the ground, I hurried my way past the swarming children to the monstrous white van and loaded the game into the trunk. Then shepherding the kids, missionaries and Mexicans alike, I plopped myself down with an exhausted sigh. A young boy around six years old snuggled into my lap and joyfully poured Ensenada’s russet dirt on my old, tattered jeans. I listened intently to a familiar story spoken in a foreign language. Behind me, the sounds of saws and hammers informed me that the tiny house was nearly finished. That meant the week was almost over, too.
The Sunday beginning this special week, my family and I packed and traveled to Ensenada, Mexico with our church. We arrived and settled in for a one-week stay. I felt like I had traveled to a new planet. For example, driving to our destination, bright pink, orange, red, and green mansions loomed over the van in one neighborhood. In the next, cardboard boxes and tarps provided a roof over many families’ heads.
Finally finished with our long journey, we exhaustedly passed through the courtyard of the Ensenada Outreach Center, our headquarters for the week. A team of interns at the center enthusiastically greeted us. After unpacking in our rooms, we returned to the courtyard where we received many hugs from the family for whom we would construct a house. The family included a mother, father, and two sweet little boys, Eloy, 4, and Alexander, 1. Their current “house” consisted of a broken garage door for one wall, a bent up cardboard box for the other two, a tarp for the roof, and no door. The family’s things were jammed into the tiny “house”. It only took a day or two to realize how right I was about living in a different world. In the mornings, instead of waking up on a spacious bed in a spacious room, I found myself waking up in a room, smaller than my room back home, with my whole family sleeping therein. Instead of surveying a big closet filled with numerous clothes, I pulled out the same pair of jeans and t-shirt from a tiny suitcase and slipped them on. Throughout the day, a little girl or boy would ask me a question that I couldn’t translate. I would give the best answer I could, earning strange looks and laughter from the kids. The fake smile would appear on my face as I felt my face turning almost as red as the soil. Annoying as it is, Americans can’t drink Mexican water without disposing of it in a way I’d rather not mention. Consequently, showering and brushing teeth require lots more work. No singing in the shower aloud if you don’t want to get Montezuma’s Revenge. Brushing teeth had to be done with bottled water.
Completely opposite to my American mode, I never caught myself feeling bored, yet the only entertainment at EOC was ping pong. Oh yeah, foosball was always available, too. And there were always friends to spend time with in person, not on a text app. I’ll not even mention that we didn’t get to do this all until after dinner. Instead of occupying myself with online games, texting, and playing with friends and on electronics all the time, I did a lot of enjoyable work and spent great time with friends who care about me. Although I really enjoyed it, I didn’t quite realize all this until I found myself sitting on the red soil of Mexico, half-listening to Roberto’s lively story. I had been shaking off the dirt, trying to keep a smile on my face while the youngster laughed as he quickly restocked my pants with dust.
Suddenly, something struck my indignant little brain. Here I sat with the gifts God gave me of precious children He loved and a simple week to escape the distracting lifestyle at home. He gave them to me out of love, but I took a long while to appreciate it. I was focused on the filthy, dirt-covered clothes I wore for the fourth time as well as on avoiding Montezuma’s Revenge from the water. The kids laughed at me sometimes, sure. But they still loved me, and everyone else on the team, for bringing some joy into their lives of hardships. I had an opportunity to love them back in that genuine love God offers. At the same time that I stopped thinking about the hardships and started thinking about the amazing gift of God’s love for this little child and the others surrounding us, my leg stilled and allowed the redness to heap up. I realized how much love I felt for the kids, despite the giggles at my poor Spanish and the awkward conversations. God loves these kids so much, I thanked God for them and said I’d try to show them a bit of the love He intended to give.
The little boy looked up into my eyes and smiled a huge smile, almost too large for his darling little face. For the first time today, I returned him a smile just as genuine.
Sarah is going with her family again this summer and you can go too! If you would like more information just contact me and I’ll send you all the details.
I know it’s hard to believe by looking at Marci and me, but we now have five grandchildren. Our oldest is 14, our youngest was born last month. All five of them are beautiful, brilliant kids who will excel at whatever they choose to do in life. If you don’t believe us, you are obviously not one of their other grandparents.
In August we had the opportunity to lead a Summer Seminar on grandparenting and in the process of doing so, we learned a lot about how special grandparents really are. For example, we learned that there are key roles that grandparents play in the lives of their grandkids.
Teller of Stories. Grandparents are family historians. Today’s kids have been called the “cut flower generation” because they have no roots. Every child needs a connection to their past and if you’re a grandparent, then you’re it! In Joshua 4, the Lord commanded stones to be set up so that when future generations asked “What do these stones mean?” they would hear stories about the faithfulness and power of God. We too set up stones by telling stories to our grandchildren about the faithfulness of God to our family down through the years. Parents give their children wings, but grandparents give them roots.
Giver of Blessings. It has been said that the best thing about being a grandparent is that we get to spoil our grandchildren … and then send them home to their parents! Well, we also get to bless our grandchildren, not with money or things, but with our acceptance, our words of encouragement, and our prayers on their behalf. As grandparents, we want to spend as much time with our grandchildren as possible so that they will hear often how much we love them and how much God loves them too.
Maker of Memories. I have vivid memories of time I spent with my grandfather in Tennessee, learning how to whittle a hickory stick into a slingshot, or learning how to fish with a cane pole, or watching him make watermelon rind false teeth. Mostly I remember how my grandparents would put their hands on my head and pray with loud voices as if God were hard of hearing. Those are unforgettable, life-changing memories. Likewise, the time we spend with our grandkids today can become memories that last a lifetime and make a powerful impression.
Example to Follow. As grandparents, we pray that our grandkids will grow up to become people of great faith and character. While parents tend to worry about their children’s behavior, their schoolwork, their achievement in sports and academics, we don’t worry so much about things like that. We just want our grandkids to grow up to become good people—people who love God and love others. Researchers tell us that the influence of grandparents on their grandchildren is second only to the influence of their parents. With this in mind, we pray we will be good examples of the kind of people we want our grandkids to become.
At our Summer Seminar we learned lots of great ideas from the grandparents who attended, but mostly we gained a whole new appreciation for what an awesome privilege and responsibility being a grandparent really is. As the Word of God says: “Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your hearts wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.” (Deut. 4:6b MSG) No doubt about it. Grandparents leave for their grandkids a legacy of faith they can’t get any other way.
Last week I led a group of 20 people from CABC (College Avenue Baptist Church) to Ensenada, Mexico for an intergenerational short-term mission trip. Once again, we stayed at YUGO Ministries’ Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) and worked with their staff to build a home for a family living in poverty and also to conduct a VBS program for neighborhood children. We have partnered the past few years with a small church in the community of Salitral called “Fuego de Dios” (Fire of God). Pastor Nicolas Gallegos shepherds a small flock there and does a remarkable job of reaching out to this little community. YUGO’s “Houses of Hope” program helps local churches serve families in the neighborhood in a very tangible and practical way. Families who receive new homes feel a special connection to their local church long after the house is built, and the ministry continues.
We built a home for a family of six who were living in a one-room house that was built for them by another ministry (Amor, perhaps) many years ago, probably when the family was much smaller. The new three-room house that we built was right next to the old one, so the family can now use both. Their kitchen, which was outside, can now be moved inside. The children will now have beds of their own rather than all sharing a common one.
We also conducted a Vacation Bible School program at Pastor Nicolas’ church each morning for about 35 children. Along with games, crafts and Bible stories, we did a puppet show each day. I built a portable puppet show stage made of PVC pipe and curtains and I purchased some pre-recorded puppet show scripts that were in Spanish, so our puppeteers only had to move the mouths of the puppets in sync with the dialogue. They worked great, although on the first day, one of the children began crying hysterically when the puppets started to talk. Apparently the little guy had never seen puppets before and they scared him to death. You can imagine what a small child would think upon seeing such odd-looking creatures come to life. He seemed to like (or at least to tolerate) the puppets the rest of the week.
It was a good week of ministry. Although our Mexico team was smaller this year than last, we had a good mix of people who worked hard and accomplished much. Chuck and Shannon Fisher, with their kids Jon, Sara and Chris, are old pros—this was their third year in a row. Bill and Debbie Gossett, with their two sons Joe and John, came out all of the way from Minnesota. Laura Morales, a single mom, brought her two children Roy and Victoria. Sara Fisher invited two of her friends (Tori and Maddie) and made up the puppet team. Bob and Luanne Holaday, longtime members of CABC, joined me as senior members of the team. Esther Tejada and Oscar Miramontes served as our interpreters. Bryce Klabunde, CABC’s Pastor of Soul Care, also came for the third year in a row and helped immensely on the construction team.
This was my fifth year doing a family mission trip to Mexico and my third with CABC. In my view, these trips perfectly accomplish my ministry goals as “Pastor to Generations” at CABC. It’s my favorite week of ministry of the year. Hardly anything else comes even close as a vehicle for passing faith from one generation to the next.
A week in Mexico is a complete immersion experience in intergenerational discipleship. Parents and children serve Christ together, working side by side for five days. They engage in extended conversations about faith and values. They participate in doing something together that is truly remarkable and very significant as they impact the lifestyle of a family much like their own. They worship together and receive biblical input each day from the YUGO leadership who help them process and learn from what they are experiencing during the week. They have a fun, positive family experience which rivals any family vacation or family camp. And with Mexico being so close to us in San Diego, it’s not expensive and easily accessible. All that’s needed is a passport and an appetite for some of the best street tacos on the world.
Hopefully we’ll be doing it again next year. Let me know if you’d like to go with us.
With so many graduations going on this month, it occurred to me recently that I graduated from high school FIFTY years ago. Yep, a half-century ago, I marched with the Camarillo High School class of ’63.
More significantly, it also occurred to me that it was fifty years ago that I started doing youth ministry. I wrote about it briefly in my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]:
My call to youth ministry came in the form of an actual phone call.
After I graduated from high school in 1963, I went to work for the architectural firm that gave me a job after I won the drafting contest. After several weeks working for the architectural firm I was absolutely bored to death. On top of that, I noticed how bored (and boring) everyone else there seemed to be. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to become an architect after all.
A few weeks later Don Goehner, the executive director of Ventura County Youth For Christ, called me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working part-time for YFC as a club director. My responsibilities would include running one of the high school clubs, helping out with Saturday night rallies and doing some graphic design work. He also wanted me to help start a new junior high club program. The pay would be $50 a month.
I was stunned and absolutely overjoyed. It took me all of five seconds to say yes to Don. I definitely wanted that job. The pay didn’t matter. I was only seventeen years old, and gas was only thirty-five cents a gallon. What mattered was that I got to do something I really wanted to do, what I believed God was calling me to do.
Me on the left; Don Goehner on the right. 1963.
While there have certainly been times when I’ve wondered what my life might have been like had Don Goehner never made that phone call (Would I have become a world famous architect, designing impressive buildings and making millions of dollars …?), I have no regrets whatsoever. Youth ministry has provided for me a very rewarding and fruitful life. I met my wife in youth ministry. I learned how to preach, teach, write and play music in youth ministry. I made a lot of dumb mistakes and learned valuable lessons and leadership skills in youth ministry (as my old friend Bill Wennerholm was fond of saying, “Learn to run a junior high group and you can rule the world.”) I got to work alongside a lot of amazing and inspiring people in youth ministry. And I learned to follow, serve, trust and love Jesus more authentically in youth ministry.
So here I am, fifty years later, Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Am I still in youth ministry? Of course I am. It really doesn’t matter what your job description is. Once you’ve been called into youth ministry, you’re in it for life.