I posted a blog about random influences in the way I do ministry. You can read the first post here. It is necessary to state that my biggest influences come from my Dad, Mom, brothers, and sister. However, each time I sit down to write about one of them I start sounding like a sappy little boy. While, in comparison to some, I am still a boy (30 years old), I am NOT SAPPY! So, that being said. Here is the next installment.
I had two fantastic youth pastors. Both very different people. The first was Ron Holman (New Orleans,LA). Ron was a man of God who was disciplined and expected discipline from his students. He took us on missions, introduced me to World Changers, and trained us to have a personal devotional life. He was tall, athletic, and scheduled. We loved and respected Ron, though as youth we were careful NEVER to let him know that.
Ron ran a typical Baptist, program oriented, youth group inNew OrleansLouisiana. He was a full time youth minister who was going to Seminary on the side to get his degree. On Sunday we had Sunday School, on Wednesday we had Wednesday night meal and youth Bible Study, and interspersed were various events (block parties, progressive dinners, D-Now, etc…) and weekend activities that were designed to attract students and develop community. Ron worked hard and the events were effective at attracting students and developing community, once and a while we even came away learning. With the leaders of the youth group, Ron met once a month and led us in personal devotions and taught us to keep a quiet time and study the Bible, in those meetings we learned a ton. Wednesday night consisted of a game that my mom (the volunteer youth game maker) designed to go along with the lesson and then a lesson that Ron would communicate through various mediums.
So I remember one time when Ron was closing a Wednesday service. It must have been a particularly hard night, none of us were attentive, all of us were selfishly making jokes and ignoring what Ron was saying. Ron began to pray and there was a snicker at the back. A boy had obnoxiously interrupted the prayer and said, “amen already.” Ron completed his prayer and said Amen and bolted out of the room, hurdling some of the chairs that were in the way. It was obvious he was mad. As we looked around the room in stunned silence we realized the young boy had made his joke and then ran away. Ron chased him down. Don’t really know what ensued after that, but I do know that the boy kept coming and was much more attentive from that point on. After the great hurdle, my buddyChadlooked at me and said, “uhhh huh… that boy gonna die, you don’t mess with God in front of Ron.”
Ron was zealous for God’s name and he had a deep respect for the Word of God. His deep love for Scripture was not always penetrating to us. Most of us were too busy with our own dramatic relationships to be concerned with the divine drama. But you couldn’t be around long before you recognized Ron was disciplined, zealous, and knew Jesus. It is a testament to Ron that the boy he chased down kept coming. Ron was careful to view all of us as sheep in God’s fold and he took his job to teach us very seriously. While a shepherd may need to break a straying sheep’s leg occasionally, Ron was also faithful to do his best to point us to green pastures and still waters (please don’t read too much into that, it’s a metaphor. I have never broken a students leg and neither did Ron.) Thus, I learned discipline in my walk with Christ through Ron’s ministry.
In contrast to Ron, Kevin Banfield (Towson,MD) was a short stocky iron worker who sold insurance on the side and did youth ministry for free. He and his wife Mary-Beth were a team. Kevin would share a devotional and Mary-Beth would reaffirm it with an object lesson. Kevin also worked at a typical program driven church with Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible study, youth choir, etc… Kevin, like Ron, did many big events. Further, Kevin and his family dedicated every Friday night to the youth group. They opened the gym at the church every Friday from 7-11pm. Kevin would sit in a chair in our youth room and just listen to students. Nothing was planned, nothing was programmed, occasionally he had a game to play. At 10pm he would call everyone into the youth room for a 15 minute devotional. There was little to no organization and it was AWESOME!
Kevin never locked his door, his door was always open, and he never turned you away. If his door was locked, the key would be in the bird bath or some other, not so obscure, hiding place. (not to mention you could unlock most things in his house and even start his car with a screwdriver.) He would sit and listen to students talk for hours, he would occasionally remind me that I shouldn’t tell girls to “suck it up, we got a job to do,” he was just kind of there. He loved us and we knew it. Kevin was not a fantastic teacher. He was not a deep theologian. He was not consistently organizing things for us to do (or at least that wasn’t the crux of his ministry). Kevin was not a man who you heard preach and said, “I’d like to listen to some more of that!” No… Kevin was the guy who sat in a chair and listened and laughed with you as you talked about whatever. He loved his wife and you could see it because you were around them. He made you feel like you were loved and he could pretty much listen to whatever you said without making you feel horrible. Then he would challenge you with some question like, “How can we encourage (insert name of person you just ignored) to be like Jesus?”
Kevin is the reason I take students to lunch. He is the one who taught me that the relationships you can develop with a few students are far more powerful in the kingdom than the sermon you can preach to 60. Sometimes I forget this truth and become absorbed with teaching. But, something always reminds me of sitting on that ratty furniture in our youth room talking to Kevin about Jesus while simultaneously feeling deep conviction over my selfish living. So I try to take students individually to get sodas from time to time. Just to listen and occasionally to deal with some issue. (Just a side note: if you’re wondering why I’ve never taken your child out, just give me time… or you can ask me to. Likewise, you can ask me not to, some parents prefer that, I won’t be offended. Also, I ask other female leaders in the church to take out the girls. It’s just not right for a man, who is not her father, to take a 15 year old girl for a soda.)