The last 24 hours will mark my life indelibly. It was a youth ministry happening that few (if any) other youth pastors will ever experience. Keep reading so I can explain.
I just spoke for the closing night of a weeklong youth retreat for one of my old youth ministries, “Revolution.” Forty years ago when I launched it in Nebraska, we called the youth ministry “Spireno” (“Spiritual Revolution Now”). Sam and I pastored there for FIFTEEN fulfilling, life-altering years.
So what made this night so epic? You see, forty years later, they are still hosting the same life-altering “weeklong retreat” each summer that I began four decades ago. And rarer still, forty years later, the same unmistakable touch of God is genuinely on this yearly event to transform lives and hearts. The 2012 “Weeklong” was themed “INHERITANCE” and they focused on celebrating the spiritual inheritance they had received through the years. Earlier in the week, some of my spiritual sons who ran the youth ministry after I left flew in to speak to the 200 teenagers and leaders present. But on the closing night, my assignment was to challenge the students to live a “LEGACY LIFE THAT GIVES THE INHERITANCE AWAY.”
The spiritual DNA that the Lord helped us to launch 40 years ago was still vibrantly obvious. The atmosphere was electric with the marked presence of Jesus Christ. Worship was whole-hearted and roof-shaking. Laughter was authentic and frequent. Friendship was contagious and inclusive. Spiritual hunger was aggressive and radical. And prayer was intense and sustained.
The current youth pastor, Corey Demmel, unselfishly coached them to make the night an evening of “payback” for me. And privately, right before I went up, he whispered to me, “None of us will probably ever experience a night like this again, so take your time…and let them feel and sense their spiritual DNA from you.”
And so I did. I told a few of the countless crazy stories from “Weeklongs” of the past. I reminded them that I piled teenagers and college kids onto buses that went on 24-hour-trips one way, complete with buses breaking down constantly and hysterical happenings along the way. I told them about the “port-a-potties” that we dug, the huge circus tents we pitched to sleep in, and the countless holes in the old tent roofs that brought the frequent rain down-pourings inside our tents. We laughed until our sides hurt.
And then, in typical SPIRENO style, they easily allowed me to “flip the switch” and share my heart seriously with them. I didn’t want just to “preach” that night. It was far too historic…far too rare and epic for just “another sermon.” Instead, I wanted to reach into what 42 years in full-time youth ministry has taught me…and try to put biblical, pragmatic handles around living a “legacy life that gives the inheritance away.” They listened, took notes, responded, and most importantly, THEY PRAYED.
But my own “slice of heaven” went even further than the waves of love and honor they so generously lavished on me as the ministry’s founder. My most epic moment was when I began to meet student after student whose parents had been in the youth ministry 40 years earlier with me. Most of them had come to faith in Christ during that era. And now, 40 years later, they were raising their own teenagers to pursue that same wholeheartedly abandoned relationship with Jesus Christ.
There were about FIFTY of them who hung around after the service for our impromptu “spiritual grandkids’ meeting.” We huddled near the front of the meeting area about 1 AM after most everyone had finished praying. And I easily guessed who several of them “belonged to.” Wow…Genetics and DNA are no joke! Time and time again I heard myself saying, “You look just like your dad (or mom) looked when they were your age!”
They told me stories their parents told them about their own youth ministry days…quoted “Jeanne-isms” that their parents had shared over and over as they raised them…and even told me that some of their parents’ attributed their strong marriages to what Sam and I had been privileged to model before them. I told hysterical stories on some of their parents, reminded them that many of them owed their sheer existence to my “matchmaking” anointing, and paused with some of them to take a group picture before they scattered at about 3 AM.
I raced out the door to head for the airport with the senior pastor’s wife, Laurie. She and her amazing husband, Gary, are also my spiritual kids from the Nebraska era. The Hoyt’s began serving as senior pastors at Bellevue Christian when we left for Illinois and nearly 25 years later, they continue to flourish in that role. On the drive, a text appeared on my cell phone from Corey, the current youth pastor. His words put the punctuation mark on the weekend:
“You just walked out of the leadership meeting a few minutes ago. We all just sat down and no one said a word for the next three minutes. We all just wiped away tears and took it in. A true ‘Selah’ moment.”
So why do I call this past weekend “My most epic youth ministry moment?”
How often is a youth pastor allowed the privilege to experience the fruit of his/her legacy from 40 years back?
And how often does a youth pastor experience their legacy in vibrant, full force momentum as it continues to roll into its 5th decade?
How often does a youth pastor get to drink and taste deeply of the word “inheritance” and be reminded how worthwhile the price tags have been?
I fight back tears even as I wrap this blog up. The historic Christian leader D.L. Moody once said:
“When I die, I will not be truly dead.
Because I will be alive in that person…
and that one…and that one.”
I pray that the same is true with the legacy of Jeanne Mayo. I’m trying to live a life that will OUTLAST me. And this past weekend gave me hope that I’m on my way. As for you, my friend, how focused are you on giving away a true spiritual inheritance? I promise you that price tags will be PALE in comparison to the rewards.
Martyred missionary Jim Elliott really did have it right:
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep…
to gain what he cannot lose.”