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What I Wish I had said to my Youth Group 35 Years Later

Thirty five years ago I stepped out of college into my first job in full time ministry. I was young, full of energy and couldn’t believe I was getting paid for what I would have done for free. I was living out my dream of being a Youth Director and it was more than I ever imagined it would be.

Last weekend we all came back together, and as with most close friends, we picked up right where we left off. My “kids” survived adolescence to become executives, entrepreneurs, ministers and people doing fascinating work. They are faithful husbands and wives and committed parents. It was like going back to “Mayberry.”

As I’ve reflected on the weekend, which was fabulous, I found myself wishing I would have taken the time to say things I didn’t understand thirty-five years ago. During the first half of my life, answers seemed easy for me. And that’s what I modeled for my youth group. During this last half of my life, pain and loss have become my teachers and what matters most to me no longer fits in a black and white world. My theology continues to change as I break the gospel down to two commandments, love God and love others.

I’m not sure why I didn’t speak up about these changes. Perhaps I was caught up in the glory of our memories and didn’t want to bring any mention of pain into the discussion. I suspect, like me, many of my kids have not been spared from hurt and loss. If I could, I would go back and be a little more honest about navigating the hard places in life and asking the hard questions about God.

I’m going to dedicate the next 5-6 posts to “What I didn’t say when I was a Baptist Youth Minister.” Here is one of the things I didn’t understand thirty-five years ago.

Try not to be defined by what you’re against. We are a religion that continues to divide ourselves over issues that probably aren’t on God’s Top Ten list. In other words, “pull out the log in your own eye before you start picking at the splinter in mine.” I’ve been trying to pull that log out of my eye for years. God has used it to humble me more than I want to admit. Many more people will see the true Christ if we stop judging and simply love one another. Surely we can model the love of Jesus in more effective ways than going or not going to Chic-fil-a.

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