Brent Carl is the Vice President of Training Operations for Youth Ministry International, an international missions organization that specializes in providing training and resources for Youth Leaders worldwide. (This is the mission that I am a part of).
His name was Todd, and he was one of those students that I had been trying to connect with for several months in my new ministry.
I had started my ministry as Student Ministries Pastor at the church in the Fall and had begun building some good relationships with students with whom I had common interests…mostly the jocks… because, until I reached 30 and realized I wasn’t cool anymore (trading my sweet red pickup truck for a mini-van was the final straw). I used to think of myself as an avid sportsman who could talk a good game with the best of them…notice I said “talk”.
Well anyway, the relationship building was going well, the students were excited to have a Youth Pastor and I was equally as excited to minister to them, and had big plans for how we were going to change the world for Jesus through our ministry.
As I was connecting with the students and praying about how God was going to use us, for some reason I kept noticing that Todd wasn’t really joining in. He was there but he was kind of disconnected, almost like he was in his own little world. He wasn’t into the fun stuff we were doing, the dodge ball, basketball, volleyball, weight lifting etc. just wasn’t his thing. He would show up and just take a back seat and observe.
He intrigued me, as I kept thinking that even though the relationships with my fellow “wanna be” athletes was progressing, there was a dimension that we were missing by not engaging with who Todd was and where he was coming from.
I tried to strike up a conversation with him, and it went pretty much like I thought it would…no where. I did find out though that he was into video games, and punk music…hmmm, there’s a starting point I thought to myself.
Now you need to understand something, I like video games as well, but my vast experience with the gaming industry began to slow down when Nintendo 64 hit the scene. Those intense graphics in Super Mario were making me nauseous (I know I’m a wuss), and when I thought of punk music I thought of guys in multi leveled red hats singing “Whip It”. I was out of my league for sure, but there was something about Todd that I wanted to get to know, as if God was saying, “engage him where he’s at, he’s got a lot of potential.”
Well as any good Youth Pastor worth his salt would do I invited Todd to go grab some salad & yogurt after school…Yeah right…It was more like “dude, wanna get some pizza after school?” to which he said “nah, I’m not really into pizza.”WHAT?!” I thought to myself, “you gotta be kidding me”, and just as I was about to say something that would’ve for sure blown any kind of opportunity with this kid (I mean, come on, you can disrespect subs, burgers, maybe even pasta – but not like pizza? I’m sorry – that’s an affront to every thing any self-respecting professional youth pastor believes to be an effective tool in his toolbox. Not like pizza? Give me a break!)
Sorry about that, anyway what he said next was even better than…(just double checking to make sure I really mean what I’m going to say next…) yeah it was, even better than pizza. He said “dude, how about stopping by the house and playing some video games sometime?” Ahah, now we’re getting somewhere. I said “sure, man when would be a good time?” He said “how about now?” God was working for sure. To get an open invitation on the spot like that is almost unheard of in this day and age of planning and scheduling…it was incredible.
Now, I know that some of you are thinking “what’s the big deal, you’re a Youth Pastor, you don’t do anything all day when the students are in school.” To which I would say my favorite line from that great scholar Doug Fields, when he’s been asked that same famous question over the years…”Dude, what do you do all day?” Doug says, (and I’ve adopted it into my repertoire as well) “I pray…for you… all day…and if you’d stop sinning, I’d get more work done!”
Anyway, it was a big deal for me to get that kind of invite. I dropped everything I was doing (proper pizza calculations for the youth event that night, taste testing soda to see if I should purchase styrofoam, paper or plastic cups…you know important Youth Pastor Stuff), to hightail it up to Todd’s house.