Dear Youth Pastor,
In between planning lock-ins, dealing with helicopter parents, and reminiscing the days you spent studying theology in a quiet library without kids shooting spitballs at you, you may wonder if you make a difference. Because sometimes it is hard to tell when you have a punk kid invading your office space every week and you have to justify why teenagers are so important to others on staff (and sometimes to yourself).
I’m sure it’s difficult to wonder if the students remember anything you said when you’re pretty sure there is a teenage couple making out in the back of the room and about 90% of faces you’re looking at are illuminated by a cellular glow.
Perhaps you left your church with strained relationships because your voice wasn’t heard, your vision wasn’t respected, or your experience wasn’t valued. Maybe you feel jaded. Or maybe you left because your long-term plan was coming to fruition, and it was time.
But I want you to know you did make a difference. At 25 years old, I remember your messages. I remember the nights you attempted communion with a bunch of teenagers. I remember watching you sing with arms raised at church camp.
You taught me to love Jesus. You showed me what it looked like to love him with song, with dirty-feed-the-homeless hands, with questions, with space to doubt, with community. You may not always have been heard by those “in charge”, but I heard you. You may not always have been respected by that angry parent, but your words were practically Jesus’ words to me. You may wonder if you touched any lives, but I don’t wonder. I know you did. Mine.
When I think of you, I think of your arms raised at camp, eyes closed, big grin on your face, shout-singing, “I will not be silent anymore” as a refrain to a (most likely) David Crowder song. You showed me what it looked like to love Jesus with all of my feelings and teenage passion and zeal.
I remember spending many Wednesday afternoons in your office chattering on about school and books and who knows what, thinking that I was gracing you with my presence, when really you were the one giving me grace. Thank you for listening to me.
Even after you moved on, I remember emailing you my faith questions, sometimes distraught, and the fact that you responded to my emails made me feel important and validated and significant. I remember your words, “It is important that you remember that God is big and unchanging, and He is near.”
Did you know I still recall those truths to mind when I have questions? When I doubt? When I fear? Your words. Thank you for saying them from halfway across the world.
And let me tell you, the first time communion was ever meaningful to me was at a worship night in high school, hearing you talk about the body and blood of Jesus. You called us up to grab a piece of bread and a grape, and with the lights dimmed, the wooden cross looming near, and the band playing “Here I Am to Worship,” my juvenile heart was opened. I remember looking at that basket of bread and smashed grapes on the ground (sorry about that) and thinking, “Oh, I understand this now.”
I remember one of your last messages to us. You opened up Acts 20, using Paul’s words to communicate your sincere affection for us, to warn us to be cautious of those who come after, and to explain why you were going. I think of you every time I read that passage.
I remember coming to your office even after we left the church, and talking to you about some questions I had, and you explained how I should consider some theology with a closed hand and some with an open hand, and I needed to decide what theology goes in each hand. That made sense to me. My husband and I talked about this concept in our first couple of years of marriage as we navigated some murky waters, and your words helped us. Years later.
You taught me to love Jesus with a sharp mind, asking questions, testing the spirits, and being willing to reconsider. Thank you for caring for me (not church politics, not youth group loyalty, not numbers, not even your time, but me) enough to listen to concerns and giving me good advice.
You make a difference. I know I’m not the only one.