It was February 2015. I was home for the weekend and my dad called me downstairs to his basement woodshop where he was working. He told me that in a few weeks, he would be going to help my mom at an art show over that weekend. That same weekend, there was also an in-town youth retreat for local churches, so he presented me with a choice. I could either take his place at the art show, or at the retreat with the high school youth group.
Once he sprung the question on me, I knew immediately that this was a “trial run” that God had put in front of me. I thought about it and while the idea of spending the entire weekend with a bunch of high schoolers didn’t really appeal to me, I did miss those youth retreats back in high school. Plus, I would be able to spend time with my old youth pastor as well, so I agreed to take my dad’s place at the youth retreat.
I have never worked with youth before except for some second graders during past vacation bible schools, but that hardly counts as experience. However, it was only one weekend, in town, and with leaders I was familiar with, including my high school youth pastor, so I figured the extent of my duties was to make sure that the students didn’t run into traffic. I let my old youth pastor know and he was super excited to have me on board for the weekend.
During the weeks leading up to the retreat I had a lot going through my head. Will I be able to lead discussions about the sessions? What if the students don’t like me? Am I going to get ANY sleep this weekend? Of course, God had prepared me with everything I needed for that weekend so I shouldn’t have been surprised when it all went smoothly.
I had an amazing weekend with these students. From the moment I introduced myself to the group, I felt a connection with them and it grew as I got to know them more over the next few days. My worries about them accepting me disappeared, and I was able to help lead the discussions with ease. I was paired up with the other high school guys leader, and we made a really strong connection. He has constantly been a great source of knowledge, experience, and encouragement for me, and I am so blessed to have him in my life. He’s been a great model of a leader to these guys and I’ve learned, and am still learning, a lot through him.
My worry about not getting any sleep did come true, however. We hung out and played video games well into each night, so getting up for church that Sunday was a struggle. I stuck around for the high school Sunday school, and one of the guys came up to me and asked: “So, are you going to start helping out every week?” It’s difficult to describe how hard that question impacted me. As soon as he said it, my heart was struck with such an intense longing to continue working with this group, but I told him that I would love to, but I couldn’t, because I live over an hour away. It was just for this weekend.
That question disrupted the entire rest of my week. I could not stop thinking about those students and what a great time I had. The pastor at North Metro has a saying that his “heart beats and breaks” for college ministry. And my heart was beating and breaking for these students. It was unlike anything I had ever felt. So I prayed. I prayed a lot and I prayed hard that God would give me confirmation that this is what he wanted me to do. And I got it.
Later that week I had my weekly meeting with my college small group where we were going through a book that semester. We were discussing forming healthy boundaries and not spreading yourself too thin while serving others. During the discussion, my small group leader said this: “Loving others shouldn’t bring resentment, it should bring pure joy.” I instantly realized that was the best way to describe what I felt during the retreat. Pure joy. I knew from right then that this group was where God wanted me to be.
That following Sunday, I went back home to Athens and met with my old youth pastor and told him all of this that I had experienced. I asked him if he wanted a volunteer youth leader for Sunday nights, and he gladly accepted.
Eight months later, I’m still going strong and have been having the time of my life with these students. I don’t care that I have to drive two and a half hours round trip each Sunday. I don’t care that I don’t get as much sleep before work on Monday. Youth ministry is the single most satisfying and fulfilling thing that I have ever done in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
4 thoughts on “First Time’s The Charm”
Paul, I knew when I first met you in Savannah years ago that you were going to evolve from a kind, loving teenage boy to an amazing man, generous of spirit and your time. I think you’re a rock star and am so proud to know you.
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