25 years ago today – 1990 in Katy, Texas, and on my birthday - I began full time student ministry.
It’s flown by pretty fast and it’s been a ride I wouldn’t trade for all the money in the world!
In honor of my Lord giving me these years, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned during this time – the good, the bad, and the exciting!
- First Things First - Student ministry wouldn’t exist without God, and neither would I. I am so grateful that God sought me out even though I wanted nothing to do with Him (Isaiah 65:1a). AND that He loves me, forgives me, gave me faith to believe and daily gives me a purpose to live for. The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing. I owe God everything. And I’m sooooo grateful for friends like Scott Kaczinski and Mary Scull who persistently invited me and prayed for me when I didn’t care!
- Know Jesus – Second only to my faith in Jesus, is the privilege of getting to know Him more & more. He IS my strength (Psalm 46:1) and spending regular time with Him is crucial. There is no way I could love, counsel, encourage, serve, challenge, support, train & equip my family and our students in their relationship with Jesus if I wasn’t doing the same. My daily time in the mornings alone with Jesus (and yes I miss days) is a priority & habit that strengthens me, grows me and sustains me. I love Jesus, I need Him and I don’t stand a chance without Him. (John 15:5)
- WWJD – What Would JEAN Do? Seriously – I can’t say enough about my wife. When we married, we became a team of ministers who really had no idea what we we’re getting ourselves into. We just loved Jesus, each other & students and went for it. Apart from Christ, her love and her ministry to me is the greatest love & ministry I’ve ever known. She’s my partner, my best friend, my lover, my fellow minister and the best mom Drew & Jessica could ever have! Together we’ve been privileged to pour our lives into students & families, grow with them, struggle with them, celebrate with them, laugh with them and cry with them. No one will ever understand the sacrifices, the 2am phone calls, the attacks from church members or the financial strains better than a spouse. So if you’re gonna’ be in ministry for the long haul, you better have a good one or you’ll never make it. I’ve seen numerous youth leader friends quit ministry because their spouse had enough. Thanks Babe for your amazing support and for being the most awesomest wife ever!!! (Proverbs 31:10)
- Make Jesus Known – The best way to grow in your faith is to share your faith. As a new believer I told everyone and I didn’t know much more that Jesus loved me and He forgave me. Why is it that for many believers that stops?!~ Point people to HIM. HE is the one who is great, not you or me. We like students to like us, but that can come with the danger of pointing at ourselves. Talk about Jesus, bleed Jesus, point to Jesus – cause He’ll be there when we’re not. And as you do, people will believe! And new believers stoke the fire under older believers and are vital to the church. (Philemon 6)
- Be a Bible Thumper – While I was at CCU I got called a “Bible Thumper” by some friends. So I asked them why and they said, “because you always go to the Bible for all your answers.” What was meant as a joke, I took as a compliment, I mean, shouldn’t all believers do this? But here’s the reality – it means WE need to be in our Bible a lot if we’re gonna point others there! I was a fairly new believer at CCU and the reason I kept going to the Bible is I didn’t know much, but I knew God did! I still feel that way. And if we expect our students to find help from God, we need to model it. Read it, study it, pray thru it, memorize it and teach it. (2 Timothy 2:15)
- Remember Who We Are NOT – As youth leaders, we are not the parents – they are the #1 influence, not us. So the more we help them be involved in discipling their students, the greater potential for disciple-makers (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). We are also not sitters, nor entertainers, nor sports directors. Will students sometimes be dropped off for us to “watch?” Yes. Will students sometimes come just for the fun? Yes. But if these consume the bulk of how we do ministry together, we will not fulfill our call to make disciples.
- Remember Who We ARE - Village People – We are “significant others.” Others, because we are not the parents, significant because we can reinforce and reconcile both love & truth in their lives. If they are getting Jesus at home, what we do should compliment that. If they are not getting Jesus at home, then we get to be Jesus to them. Everyone needs “others” – coaches, mentors, bosses, etc.. pouring into their lives. I am grateful for those who have poured into me and into my son & daughter over the years. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-20) It takes a village and I love these “village people” God places in our lives!~ And now you can’t get the song out of your head…
- K.I.S.S. – No, not the band, but an acronym I go back to often: Keep It Simple Stupid! I remember reading a book that said we should come up with 7 point purpose statements for our ministry. There was nothing inherently wrong with this, except for the fact that only me, Jean and maybe one other person could ever remember what it was!~ Don’t make the GOSPEL complicated and don’t make student ministry complicated. Jesus Himself boiled it down to two things: Love God, Love People (Matthew 22:34-40). What is the purpose of LEGACY Student Ministry? Knowing Jesus & Making Him Known. Simple. And every student in Legacy can know it and own it.
- Be a Cheerleader for the Outcasts – Billy Graham once said, “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, my job is to love.” God is constantly reaching out to the unlovely and unlovable: the woman at the well, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, poor, etc… and we should too. Switchfoot sings, “we are a beautiful letdown, painfully uncool, dropouts, losers, sinners, failures & fools.” We live in a “high performance” culture where athletics, academics & affluence gain you acceptance. The same should not be true of God’s church. Widows, single moms, students being made fun of, the LGBT community , Democrats, Republicans, Baptists - the list goes on. Whether I agree with their behavior or not, my role is to love them and show them the love of Jesus! HE is the one who grabs hearts and transforms! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- Take This Drug Often – Proverbs 17:22 says “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Laughter is good for the soul and we need it a lot! Life has a way of getting serious and without laughter things can become heavy and depressing. So watch comedy shows, play games with your family, have friends over, tell stories and LAUGH, LAUGH, LAUGH!!!!
- Students Will Forget Our Talks – Yep it’s true. But they remember character. Don’t stop giving them scriptures and Jesus, just realize it’s your life that says the most. Think I’m crazy? Take a moment and write down the top five messages that have impacted your life. After you come up with them (or if), take a moment and write down the names of five people who have impacted your life for Jesus the most. If you’re like me, it was easy to come up with the people. Why? Because they taught great lessons? Maybe, but mostly because THEY were the lesson! (Luke 6:40)
- Forgive – Often & Always. Keep short accounts. Will people do stupid things? Yes. Will church people say & do hurtful things? Yes. Why do I know that? Because I’ve been that hurtful one – both to others and certainly to God. I’ve been forgiven SO MUCH and when I don’t forgive and become bitter, I’m the one who loses. Students today need to know they can be forgiven of ANYTHING and how can they feel that from me if I am not forgiving others. I’m not denying the pain, I’m not denying injustices that have occurred, I’m just clinging to the promise of forgiveness. (Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 6:14-15)
- If You Don’t Know, Don’t Snow – This was the advice my youth professor, RJ Koerper gave me when I headed for my first interview and I’ve never forgotten it. Trust me, students have a natural baloney meter and can tell when your making something up – so don’t. Being real & genuine with students is a must if you want to grow in Christ together. Allowing them to see my struggles, my failures, my bonehead choices frees them from the pressure to perform and allows them to fail. And contrary to the famous film line, when it comes to student ministry, Failure MUST BE an option!
- Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid – Take this one to the bank: If the strongest man (Sampson), the wisest man (Solomon) and a man after God’s own heart (David) all blew it sexually, how the heaven am I gonna make it?!~ I ask Jean constantly to pray with me about this and against this – and make sure your spouse does too! The enemy would love to have me blow it sexually, kill our marriage and damage our testimony for Jesus – and this scares the crap out of me! Set parameters. I am not alone with students of the opposite sex, and rarely alone with those of the same sex. I meet in public with students and when I counsel peeps, I leave doors open and/or ask Jean or our secretary to sit in. I also make sure there is always another adult female leader who stays to the end until all students are picked up. You have to do this because even a false accusation can end your ministry. (Proverbs 7:6-9)
- Be a Good Steward – From day one, Jean & I have always wanted to be a blessing and not a burden to our church family (No one wants to always be bailing out the youth pastor). That means being intentional with finances: not going in debt, not taking lots of loans, and at times, doing with less or without. When we’ve used our credit cards, we’ve always paid the bill in full each month. This has been a huge blessing to both us and to our church. How can we do this on a ministry salary? Our motto: Never pay full price! Look for deals, use coupons, borrow some things instead of buy AND be married to the Deals Queen! Seriously, Jean could write a book on how to save and cut spending! Have we ever had financial need? Of course. But when those moments occurred and we had expended our resources, the Lord always provided, still does and can do the same for you!
- Don’t Be a Lone Ranger – Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Ministry can be lonely enough at times, don’t add to it by doing everything yourself! Surround yourselves with others who love Jesus and love students. Especially those who are not like you so that the potential for students to connect with a caring adult is at it’s highest. Jean & I have been privileged to work with some of the greatest servant leaders at each of our churches this side of eternity! The impact these leaders have had in the lives of students continues to this day. They’ve been 20 year olds, 70 year olds and everything in between – all with youthful hearts. THANKS TONS to each of you who have been part of our teams – y’all are GOLD!
- Network – Next to not doing ministry alone in your church, don’t do it alone in your community either! If we’re going to reach a community for Jesus, it’s going to take more than just your church and your student ministry. And this can totally be done – read Acts 19:10! Find other youth workers in your area and get to know them. Eat with them, pray with them, share resources and do ministry together with them! We spent 22+ years in Katy, TX and left one of the most amazing networks of youth peeps I’ve ever known. Since arriving in Castle Rock, it’s been cool to get to know the youth workers here and begin to network with them for the Cause of Christ. If you’re not networking, your missing out.
- Get Out Of Town – Seriously, never forget that your own spouse and family are your first ministry. And because of that, they need to be priority. We all MAKE time for what we want to do. If we are not MAKING time for our own, that says a lot – none of which is good. We’ll spend hours of prayer and planning putting together student ministry schedules, but do we do the same for our family? Ouch. I feel like I am constantly having to come back to this one, call time out and re-prioritize. One thing that has helped us over the years is to pick weekends and times off and put them on the ministry calendar before we ever publish it. That way we know we get our time and we know when we have breaks coming up. Make time. Do it.
- Get Outta The Country – And take students with you. We need to have a global perspective. Just like not doing ministry alone and networking, we need to get a glimpse of what God is doing all over the world. AND that everything does not operate everywhere else the same as it does in America. We American Christians are spoiled. Take students on missions trips. Sure, start locally, but I believe every student should serve the Lord outside the USA in some way. I’ve been privileged to serve throughout the US, in Zimbabwe, in Australia and multiple times in Mexico. Each one of these opportunities humbled me and changed me forever.
- Seek Out Paul, Timothy & Barnabas – We need these three dudes in our lives. Not the actual Bible guys, but these three types of people. PAUL: Someone who is a mentor to you, leads you, teaches you and who will lovingly tell you the hard stuff. TIMOTHY: Someone whom you are mentoring, who you get to lead, be a role model to and pour Jesus into. BARNABAS: An encourager. Someone who you can dump life’s crap on and they will just listen and still love ya’! I’m so thankful for these people in my life.
- Have a Thankful Heart – The most grateful people in the world ought to be believers! We’ve been unconditionally loved, forgiven, saved from hell & given heaven, adopted into God’s family, given daily food, water, shelter, and the list could go on & on!!! We have “hakuna matata” – no worries – because our eternity is secure. For years, as people have asked me how I’m doing, my reply has always been, “better than I deserve.” Why? Because I deserve punishment for my sin but because of Jesus I get love, forgiveness and heaven instead – it’s a good day and I am soooo THANKFUL!~
- Be a Victor not a Victim – Life is vigilant and sometimes as we go thru difficulties, losses, pain and hurt, we can begin to feel like God abandoned us. As a result, we can get a victim mentality. We need to remember that God promised He would never leave us (Hebrews 13:5), life is about seasons (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) and God is not a bully looking for people to pick on. Perseverance is something we can ask God for and a trait He desires us to have. Growing up I was often told “suck it up.” As much as I still don’t like the phrase, the idea of trusting the Lord and plowing thru some things is good advice.
- Love Hopes All Things – (1 Corinthians 13:7) I want to think & hope the best for people. Why? Because that is what love does! We need to see the best in students, envision their potential, encourage them tons, be on their team, etc… Be Joe Encourager!~ Never, Never Never give up on people because by God’s grace, people can and do change!~ I am living proof of what God can do with not much. I’m forever grateful for Scott Kaczinski for believing in me when I didn’t. For Dale Arentsen meeting with me every week for 2 years to help me know Jesus. And for tons of others who hoped all things with me.
- Spend TIME with Students – Quality time can’t be planned. It just happens in the midst of Quantity time. And there are no shortcuts to this. If you want to make disciples who make disciples (Which is every believer’s calling Matthew 28:18-20) you have to spend TINE with those students. Jesus poured His life into a FEW to reach the MANY and we should do the same. Student ministry is less about the messages, the retreats, the conferences and bump soccer and more about doing life with Jesus together. Showing up at athletic events, choir concerts, award ceremonies, etc… takes time – but that IS what families do! We’re the King’s kids, we’re royalty and we’re privileged with time, but time is winding down. Only two things last forever: The Word of God and souls of people – let’s spend our time with these two! I thank God for EVERY STUDENT I’ve had the privilege to spend time with these past 25 years – IT’S BEEN AMAZING!!!!
- It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time – Yes I have a t-shirt that says this, but I don’t want this to be my theme for life. As a student pastor we need to do things that draw people to Jesus, not turn them away. It breaks my heart each time I hear someone tell me they’ve been hurt by a believer or a church and it’s turned them away from Jesus. The most loving, helpful and accepting place in the world ought to be God’s church and His people AND YOU & I either make or break that. Let’s make it happen! Join me in being and creating a safe place of love & acceptance for every student and family in our communities! And if your spouse says they are concerned about playing a game that puts fire too close to peoples hair, listen to her………hypothetically speaking J
There is soooo much more God has taught me, but for now, let me conclude with my top 7 Bible passages:
a. My solid ground: John 3:16-17
b. My mission: Matthew 28:19-20
c. How I feel: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
d. So true of me: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
e. My life verse: Acts 20:24
f. My anchor: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
g. Because I still feel like a kid: 1 Timothy 4:12
View 25 years of group photos here:
View 25 years of group photos here: