I am just finishing up the second session of YMCP, a coaching cohort for youth ministry. It meets in La Mesa, about six highway miles from the neighborhood I grew up in, which is huge for me.
Those who know me well know that I'm a sappy sentimentalist. I say with little shame that I teared up when I drove by my old house and schools today. i even went to the 7-11 that my friends and I spent countless hours in, playing Street Fighter II and stealing candy. It's sacred space.
The funny thing is that as I pulled into the parking lot some middle school punk was walking up to my car, holding his arms up at me, and bobbing his head towards me like an angry chicken or something. I'm a guy, I know what he was going for: trash talk.
I got out of the car and he scootered up to me and started doing it again. now, if you know me well, you also know middle school boys don't intimidate me. i asked him in a joking way, "Why are you acting tough, what're you, like 12"? He cussed me out and was gone.
Now, there are a few reasons while this short exchange means something to me. One, he reminded me of me. It was like looking at myself as a 12 year old, talking trash to people that could kill me with a flick of a wrist, hanging out at 7-11 for no good reason. He had probably just got done stealing some candy.
Two, I had just driven through Santee where I went to three years of my four high school years at West Hills. When I entered Santee on Mission Gorge Road there was a huge sign that said "Welcome From the Churches of Santee" or something along those lines. I had never realized how many churches there were in Santee, because I never met a youth pastor from one in high school. I never saw a youth pastor from one at school. I never heard a kid talk about his youth pastor. And etc.
Now, I'm not writing an indictment of youth pastors in Santee. There might be now, and could have been then, great youth pastors doing great things and I missed it. But running across that kid at 7-11 and that sign in Santee reminded me why I love what I do - I'm looking for kids like me that aren't against Jesus or anti-God, they just have never had the chance to "get it".
It makes me think about what outreach to youth really looks like, both in general and in my ministry right now. I want to continue to be a campus presence, to have kids ask who I am, and to continuously introduce Jesus into lives in meaningful ways. The practice and execution, the specifics ... Those things might get tweaked and change, but that heart can't. We need multiple ways, new ideas, crazy thoughts, bold approaches. We need to not just ask a kid if he knows where he's going when he dies, but ask him if he really knows what it means to live.
A foul-mouthed time warp "me" taught me that tonight at 7-11 in El Cajon. I hope I remember.