A highlight of my week in San Diego was meeting with Mark Oestreicher (Marko). We had lunch in La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya) overlooking the bay. Well, it is not hard to imagine. It was beautiful. The food was good and the fellowship great. Oddly enough, our time together got my head to spinning and it led me to think of why it is that I’m not a youth minister. Marko is a leading edge youth specialist, and having lunch with me he had no idea what a flop I was as a youth minister. Nor did I tell him, but I’ll tell you (and he’ll no doubt read this and with any luck write back).
I was a youth minister for about 2 years when I was in college. I was not particularly good; in fact, besides being too young to be a minister, I was confused. Besides being too young, there were two more important reasons why I was so confused about what I was doing.
First, when it came to guitar playing, which I tried to do, I had neither beat nor rhythm. I could generally get the right chord, but I simply could not strum the guitar at the right time. I was awful — very bad. So bad, and still so bad at rhythm, that I cannot even explain the messes I could create with my strumming. If you can’t at least play some guitar, youth ministry gets tough. Unless you can sing on pitch (which I can’t) or play some other instrument (which I can’t).
But, this is light stuff.
Second, the real confusion came with what I thought I was supposed to be doing. Of course, I had no courses in either ministry or youth ministry (which is not quite the same, I’m told), but I was loaded for bear with courses on Bible and Theology and Greek. So, I taught my students — hardy and patient as they were — Bible. And what better part of the Bible to begin with than Romans. With constant reference to the Greek text.
So it was to Romans we went — for two solid years. Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t do a verse-by-verse format. No, not verse-by-verse. No, instead, I did a word by word analysis of Romans, beginning with “Paul.” You got it: Romans word by word. And the best way to make Romans clear was to teach them how to diagram sentences. My wife, the wonderful helpmate that she was, tried her best to get me to see that this was not a junior OR senior high approach to Bible study. But, I slogged away, and if my memory serves me right, we got to about chapter five.
The thing about it was this: we loved the kids, and they loved us back, and that seemed to carry the most weight in our Bible studies.
This all came home to me one night when at about 2am a student called me, angry as fire at his parents and his upbringing and now me because he wasn’t finding any meaning in life. My knowledge of Romans wasn’t of much immediate help (I had only gotten through five chapters) and I hadn’t had a course in ministry or counseling, and so I listened and he seemed to get over it after a while and he hung up. When I got back to bed I said something about not thinking I was cut out for this.
So I found another vocation, and it has been good. And Kris and I remain grateful to that church and its pastor for giving me a chance to learn what I was not called to do, and we are just as grateful to the many youth ministers our two kids, Laura and Lukas, had who were not confused about the things I was confused about.
Marko, why was I so confused?