Reflecting on a Decade of Youth Ministry and Pondering the Next One

(This is an article I wrote for our student ministry newsletter. It's a bit long for a blog, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.)

I cannot believe it’s already 2010. Where did this decade go--these 3,652 days, 87,648 hours, 5,258,880 minutes? Think for a moment about the things we now take for granted that did not exist, or at least weren’t as commonplace, just ten years ago, things that most of us need to survive:

Cell phones Facebook Panera Bread
Texting Flat screen TVs YouTube
Ipods Terrorist Alert Colors
Miley Cyrus (I don’t need her to survive, but some of you do!)

Anyway, for most of the people reading this, the now-ending decade equals the majority of your life. For me, it’s like somebody hit the FF button on my remote and skipped a whole scene.

It seems like yesterday we were preparing for the turn of the century, known at the time as Y2K. There was a lot of hype that night. People were worried the world was going to end, all computers were going to crash, the electric grid was going to explode, and the moon was going to fall out of the sky. They stocked cases of water and giant cans of beans in their pantry. I celebrated by parking cars at a country club in Colorado to earn some cash. It was our last year of seminary. We were poor and happy. Karen was at home with three little boys. Thomas was only 1 ½. The world didn’t end. In fact, for us it seemed to be just beginning.

A few months later, I walked across the stage to accept my diploma. I was as proud as David after slaying Goliath. I only had two B’s my entire seminary career (both in Greek). I got an award as the best preacher in my class. I had already visited, interviewed, and been hired as the first-ever youth pastor at Mountain View Community Church. I even had a fancy title: Associate Pastor of Student Ministries. It was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. We celebrated with a family vacation to Yellowstone, where we camped under a sky as big as the dreams we shared.

We arrived in Maryland in June and moved into a home the church had arranged for us to rent in Adamstown. It was a cool old house, but one of the first days there, Karen saw a spider big enough to be Maryland’s third largest city. A couple of days later, we were looking at a little brick ranch house in Walkersville. It was about the 10th house we’d looked at that day. It was small, but the backyard was huge, the neighbors were nice, and while we were there a little steam engine rambled down a railroad track behind the fence. We knew. The boys have grown up in that house.

Of course, while our boys grew up, so did the youth ministry at Mountain View. Our first event was XXXL Beach Day – a one-day marathon to Rehoboth Beach. Joel Stafford “helped” out—he pulled up beside me at a stoplight and opened fire with a Super Soaker. Some things never change. A 7th-grader named Ben Roembke ignored my plea to put on sunscreen. On the way home, the fair-skinned, freckled Ben was in agony, shivering and moaning in the back seat of my car while I debated about what I was going to say to his parents. Either, “I’m so sorry; I should have put the sunscreen on him myself,” or “Your son is dumb.”

That fall, we started SOS. I thought the name was cool, an import from Colorado. It stood for Stoked on Sundays—you know, “stoked,” as in, “Woah, Dude, there’s a foot of powder today! I’m stoked! Let’s grab some big air.” The kids thought I was a dork and made fun of me. I cajoled Scott and Erika Rape to join me as my first staff recruits. We were the whole senior high youth staff.

We met at DeGrazia’s house in Holly Hills. Their basement was perfect. Mrs. DeGrazia stocked the fridge with sodas and made us pizza. That was probably the reason anybody came. Somehow I convinced 13 kids to go on a retreat despite having no real answer for their nagging question, “What’re we gonna do there?” Melissa Hite (who has since moved to Florida) called to offer to teach Sunday School. I told her she had to come on the retreat. Scott and Erika came, too, with their new baby, Cale. There were 18 of us that weekend at a little camp called Refreshing Mountain. I brought an Al Gore mask; he was running for president. He’s in the picture.
Meanwhile, our middle school group met at Urbana Elementary for something called Manic Mondays. Now that was a name that made sense! Trying to teach a lesson to kids sitting on the floor in the corner of the gym was like trying to get the attention of a cattle herd by waving a feather. On more than one occasion I thought it might be worth the jail time to strangle Christopher Reynolds and Nathaniel Jones, two incorrigible middle school boys. I needed more than Joel’s Super Soaker.

In the summer of 2001, we took our first mission trip to Matamoros, Mexico. The heat, the rotten-egg- smelling showers, and the dirty-toilet-paper-in-the-garbage-instead-of-the-toilet changed us all, but not as much as the incredible bond we felt with the people we could barely understand.

In the fall of 2001, we officially became The View. An old acquaintance of mine was working as a graphic designer near Harrisburg. I asked him to make us a logo that looked kind of like “Mountain Dew, only with a cross.” He did a good job.

In the summer of 2002, 29 people had nothing better to do, so they signed up to to go to Atlanta for something called “Nationals.” I told them it was going to be awesome. They didn’t believe me, but they went anyway. It was 95 degrees with 100% humidity when we arrived.

That evening, we walked into Georgia Tech’s basketball arena. The place was packed with 6,000 students. Lasers lit up the room, speakers blared. Our students looked like a bunch of Amish kids who’d been air-dropped into Disney World. Soon a little guy nobody had ever heard of named Chris Tomlin started to play. By the end of the week, our lives were changed. Mary Sarah Kneebone was changed the most – she no longer hated me. And more importantly, she loved God.

I could go on for a long time. There are so many memories from the past ten years. There was the first-ever video-making contest in 2002, producing the classic, “Monday Night Football.” There was the trip to Nationals in Salt Lake City in 2004, when we took advantage of our time in the west to climb rocks at Zion National Park, ride horses through the dust of Bryce Canyon, and eat burgers fresh off the buffalo at the ranch. There were more mission trips to Mexico, Peru, Pittsburgh and New Orleans—and more fall retreats at Refreshing Mountain. There were long drives through the snow to Camp Orchard Hill, and short drives to deliver blankets to the homeless in DC. We changed Manic Mondays to Mini Mondays and then, for obvious reasons, to Wise On Wednesdays. We moved SOS from DeGrazia’s to Katsotis’s to the Landon House to Jones’s and eventually to Leggit’s. We celebrated Christmas with the microwaveable egg timer reappearing year after year as the prized gift, and started a sweet banquet to honor our seniors.

We laughed a lot. We learned a lot (I hope). And we cried a lot, too, especially when Louisa died, a moment most of you won’t remember, and which I will never forget. It was December 5, 2005--the halfway point of the decade, and the seminal moment of Mountain View’s youth ministry. I’ve never looked at this ministry the same way again. It’s really, really important to realize the battle we face as we fight for the souls of young men and women.

And through all of this, God was good. He was faithful. He was teaching us. He was growing us. He was leading us. He was living in us. As he has always done, and will always do. Everything changes, except Him.

Who knows how the world will be different ten years from now. I heard that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are merging into a new network called YouTwitFace.

But this new decade belongs to you—the current generation of the View. You may be 12, 13, maybe 17, and your time at the View is now! Take advantage of it. SOS and WOW will provide friendship and community. Morning View (soon to be “DTour”) will provide discipleship. Backoftheline will provide practice. Mission trips will provide new eyes. Challenge will provide passion. The youth staff will provide guidance and love. Our new youth center will provide space (Woohoo!). The Holy Spirit will provide a new heart. And YOU will provide the enthusiasm and energy necessary to make our memories complete and our decade all it’s meant to be.

How fast will these next 3,652 days go? If they go by as quickly as the past ones did, I’m going to need oxygen to catch my breath. But I’m ready. And whether you know it or not, so are you! Happy New Decade!