As a college student at Malone University, I majored in youth ministry. I did internships as a handful of different kinds of churches, the last of which actually led into a full-time role as a student pastor at a large church, overseeing separate junior, senior high, and college-age ministries.
When I was a grad student at Fuller Theological Seminary, I continued to serve in the world of high school student ministry as an interim director at yet another kind of church.
Later, after some time working in a seminary context, I launched into yet another pastoral position at a new church, this time working exclusively with college students and other young adults.
However, I haven’t really done much in the way of student ministry since the spring of 2009. So, after nearly a 3-year hiatus, I was excited when my college buddy, Scott, who’s been a long time youth pastor at The Chapel in North Canton, asked me to come back into town and help lead a retreat for his high school student leaders.
As you might expect, the topic of the retreat was leadership. There were to be three main sessions over the course of our time together Friday night and through the day on Saturday, plus a final sermon on Sunday morning.
The theme for Friday night was, “Leadership as Followership: Jesus’ Plan to Destroy Your Life.” Here, we focused our discussion around Matthew 20:17-28 and reflected on how Jesus’ role as a leader was located not so much in clever skills and abilities, but a central focus on following where and how God was leading him. We talked about how a relinquishing of our personal ambition and agenda is fundamental to receiving what it is that God might have for us. I also sought to pass on a discipleship framework for leaning how to get better and better at recognizing where and how God is at work and responding faithfully.
On Saturday morning our theme was, “Leadership as Discipline: It’s Always Easy… Until You Have To Do It.” We moved our attention to Matthew 26:36-46 and we spent some time talking about how, contrary to the aberrant Celebrity Culture that seems to mark contemporary Evangelicalism, Jesus-shaped leadership is anything but glamorous. Rather, a commitment to lead like Jesus did will nearly always take you to a place of utter desperation, disappointment, and dependence upon God. In terms of discipleship, we focused on what it might mean and look like to structure our lives around practices that intentionally root us in relationship with God, fellow believers, and others who are hurting and/or far from God.
The final session of the retreat on Saturday afternoon revolved around the notion of, “Leadership as Mission: Death as a Way of Life.” As we spent time working through Matthew 28:16-20, we discussed what actually drove Jesus as a missionary-leader, namely submission to the unique role he was to play in God’s mission in the world. We also reflected on Jesus’ commitment to equip and send others as opposed to keeping everything isolated to his direct (human) endeavor. This led naturally into presenting a process for discipling others toward maturity and mission.
On Sunday morning, in sharp defiance to the notion the Piperian notion that, “God has designed christianity to have a masculine feel to it,” Amy and I preached the sermon, “Leadership as Partnership: Embodying a New World Order,” as partners who together, as male and female, reflect the imago Dei! We spoke out of Acts 2 and Ephesians 4, calling attention to the primary role of the Holy Spirit in constituting a body of people who, against all worldly convention, seek to lead one another out of their unique giftedness in partnership for mission.
Seeing some family and friends was a highlight as always, but man, getting back around high school students for a while was a blast. I was super-appreciative of just how seriously they took our time together and how much creativity and passion they brought to the discussions.
Shame on youth pastors (Scott’s not one of them!), who sabotage their opportunity to shape a generation of students because they are so focused on growing a huge, cool youth group. Double shame on senior/lead pastors who, out of their own insecurity, put that kind of pressure on youth pastors to do it!