The Youth Will Set You Free

20 years.

It's incredible to think about, but it's been twenty years since God came in to my life in a surprising, life changing way: through youth ministry. The summer of 1993 started out with lots of excitement: I graduated with a degree in History from Sam Houston State in Huntsville. I then began the tedious work of applying to school districts. Without any contacts anywhere, I randomly applied in places like Tyler, Dallas, San Antonio, and, of course, Austin. May rolled into June. One day Mom came into the living room, where I was planted on the couch. You know, next to the phone I was certain would ring at any time. "Penny's been calling for volunteers for the youth ministry at church," she said. "Get up and go help her out." So I did. I walked into Penny Buckert's office and offered to help. I started showing up at UMYF meetings on Sunday nights. Later in the summer I found myself a camp counselor at Lakeview camp for a week, and an adult helper on their mission trip, UM ARMY. While we were at camp I remember a chapel service where someone had a telephone on the altar. The phone would ring, and God would speak to whoever answered. I felt called to youth ministry in that moment. I reached out to another youth director in the service, who hugged me, and whispered in my ear, "Hear the call." Upon returning to Bay City I sought out youth director positions in and around the Houston area and somehow, miraculously, ended up taking the position at Missouri City UMC, the job Penny had vacated to come to Bay City. I was single, making about $15,000 a year, had my first solo apartment, and loving every minute!

After a year on the job, I accepted a position at Lake Olympia Middle School. I held that position for about six months. The kids were great, but it was the wrong vocation for me. I had attended a Walk to Emmaus and felt called to ordained ministry. Later that summer, after two fantastic years, I left Missouri City, moved to Dallas to attend Perkins, graduated in 1999, was ordained an Elder in 2001, and the story goes on from there.

20 years. How many people have I met, shared tears of sorrow and joy with, baptized babies and adults, sermons preached, and everything else pastors are privileged to do? What would my life look like if one of those school districts had called me off of Mom and Dad's couch? What if I had refused Mom's "invitation" to help with the youth (no chance of that!)? What if Penny had not said yes to my offer (never knew a youth director to decline help from ANYONE, much less someone who was 22!)?

So I have officially been at Custer Road for two days, but I was also here unofficially here last week for Vacation Bible School. It was an amazing experience last week-- just walking through the halls and seeing youth in the church. It had literally been two years since I had seen a youth in church. Since my beginnings in ministry twenty years ago I have always had a heart for young people: confirmation classes, lock-ins, whatever. Maybe it is just because Twitter did not exist before, but this summer I have noticed many youth and young adults expressing a call to ministry-- some here at Custer Road-- and I hope to play some sort of mentoring/encouraging role in their journey. I've even been pastor a while ago to a couple of the CCYM (Conference Council on Youth Ministry) youth who are feeling called to ministry (Samantha McCulley and Maddie Chumley). Youth ministry is a real joy and I am proud to say I have experienced it on every level: as a youth, a young adult volunteer, as a director, as a pastor, and now as a parent. In advance, I'd like to thank Custer Road for the impact it will have on James starting later this summer. Maybe the youth ministry will lead him along a similar path as mine??

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing-- or waiting to do-- know that God is calling you to someplace new. Maybe someplace unexpected and surprising. Maybe the first step to realizing this new call on your life is getting off the couch. Or accepting an invitation you may not have heard until now. I encourage you to step out in faith, say yes to God, follow Jesus on the way of discipleship. 20 years from now you may look upon this summer with much gratitude, joy, and thanksgiving.