A day removed from the teens’ brilliant display of leadership and determination, I tried to get back into the rhythm of life. I remember sitting at the dining room table, taking a break from studying, when I received a message from the youth pastor. While, this is not his complete correspondence, it outlines the majority of his complaints, in his own words:
“There are a couple things about last night that are bugging me: help me out… I want to make sure our teens don’t think that doing good deeds gets us closer to God… Also, something about walking down the streets of Portland, praying out loud for others to hear, makes me uncomfortable especially since this is a topic Jesus specifically discourages… Also, I wanna make sure we aren’t teaching our teens that “if it makes us uncomfortable, it must be good”… I just want to be careful we are discipling our teens to do the things Jesus commanded, not to become more religious or extreme.”
I remember reading the series of texts several times in a state of confusion. Was he at the same event as everyone else who OVERWHELMING gave their approval for the work we not only put into that night, but the months before? I knew he wasn’t thrilled about something because he kept his comments to a minimum that night. But, the consensus was his lack of enthusiasm had more to do with jealousy than disapproval. (Personally, looking back, I don’t think it was either. I think it was something more, but I’ll tell that story at a later time.)
I remember going upstairs and calling one of the other youth group volunteers for perspective. (She’s also the mother of one of the young men in my group.) She chalked everything up to immaturity on the part of the youth pastor, wrapped up in a heavy dose of jealousy. These kids were obviously growing as individuals, and after that night, two other high schoolers were asking to join the group. The Lord was clearly at work and the fruit in these teens’ lives was the proof. At the end of the day, her advice was to not let him ruin what was a perfectly wonderful night and I agreed. But I also wanted to make sure I cleared up any confusion.
Below is my response to the youth pastor, cut from Facebook Messenger and pasted directly here. (No changes except names that have been removed out of respect to those involved.) They are important words to read because they are my words… words I was NEVER allowed to share with leadership at the church until it was too late. (More on that to come):
I can address these things for sure. First, I totally agree that deeds don’t draw us closer to Jesus, but I also hold to the truth that faith without deeds is dead. When it comes to discipling others I believe firmly in literally walking beside others and helping them understand what it is Jesus has asked us to do (Matt. 25 and Isa. 58). I understand the deeds dilemma is a hard one, but I know that all of those kids understand that our ministry focus is the result of our love for Jesus and not something to earn that love. As far as praying out loud, that was not how we prayed. We spent A LOT of time talking about how to pray during this. And I specifically told them not to pray like the Pharisees. They prayed to themselves as they walked. With *****, she asked me how to pray for the city and we just had this dialogue about looking around the city and seeing the things that she thought broke the heart of God and just talking about it. So as she walked she looked around and just talked to me about it. At some point I said that she needed to stop talking to me about it and start talking to God. That was it. There was no pomp and circumstance. There was no attention drawn to us. If anyone was looking at us, they would have thought we were just having a conversation. As far as being uncomfortable, I have reiterated to them the difference between good discomfort and bad discomfort. Good is when you work out and the next day you might be a little sore. Bad is that you can’t get out of bed. Good allows for growth; bad does not. Good is always accompanied with the sense of safety and bad is not. These kids know that everything we do comes from a love for Jesus… Wanting to obey Him… But also an act of worship. Last night **** asked if he could join the group. This morning I got a gut wrenching message from **** asking for the same thing… Saying that **** talking about being stretched and being uncomfortable was what she needed. I know our philosophies are different in some areas but when I read the Bible and then look at my life I don’t see anything extreme. (Now when I look at my life and I look at the American church that might be a different story.) and I’m definitely not teaching them to be more religious… I don’t even know what that means if I’m honest. Im sorry you were bothered by these things. And to be fair if I assumed the same thing I would have been bothered as well. I’m more than happy to talk further about this with you for sure. It was never my intent to offend anyone and I hope any confusion about my intentions and practices was cleared up. If we’re not on the same page then we should continue this dialogue for sure. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable as my leader. And if you feel this ministry is not in line with what God is calling you to do I totally respect that. I trust that God will open and close the doors. I love you and **** and that will never change. Your commitment to these kids is second to none and I have the utmost respect for you…even if we have different views on things. 😉
For as long as I could maintain it, grace was the answer. And in the end, grace is ALWAYS the answer. But, sometimes… my grace runs out because I’m only human. That’s not an excuse, just the reality. Kind words and an open heart can get you far in life… but it can also leave you vulnerable when left unprotected. Especially when those tasked with the responsibility refuse to do their job.