My Young Life leader called me last night. He had no particular reason; I think he was just checking in and doing some “contact work.” We talked for about 45 minutes, catching up on how my family and his family are doing. He encouraged my faith, spoke wisdom into my life, and reminded me how loved I am by him and by my Heavenly Father. It was an uplifting time, it was hilariously funny, and it was good to remember how much God loves me. By the way, I am 59 years old. My Young Life leader will be 77 this fall. We laughed about the irony of our Young Life relationship; as we say “we are not young and we have no life.”
My Young Life leader, Nobie Hill, has never stopped investing in my life, my family, my faith, or my ministry. This phone call was not a rare thing, we have kept in contact throughout our many years. We have laughed together about our past and our present. He has given me advice about marriage, about raising kids, about being a Young Life leader, about going to camp with kids, about changing careers, and anything else I can pry out of him. We have prayed together when his wife was ill, when my son was ill, when I was considering changing careers, and when he retired from Young Life staff. He has been to my house and told my sons stories about my youth; I tell the boys that most of the stories are lies. I remember being much more perfect and innocent than he remembers me. We have really done life together, despite not having been in his Young Life club for 40 years and not having lived in the same city for 25 years.
It is not our proximity that has kept us close, it is our commitment to each other that started in my living room with an awkward invitation to come to a Young Life meeting. It grew through the craziness of Young Life clubs, camps, campaigners, and leading club in his area. It has continued because of his unwavering commitment to Christ and to speaking into my life and encouraging my faith journey. He is still my Young Life leader and he knows he is not done with his contact work.
Nobie lives out what Pastor Craig Groeschel says: “If you’re not dead, you’re not done.” I believe that, so does our Lord. He has not called us to a comfy adulting part of life or retirement. Instead, he has called us to put on a “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10ff). Paul also encourages us to “press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:14) As far as I can tell, if you are reading this, it means you have not reached the end of your race. You clearly are not dead, therefore you clearly are not done with God’s service, work or plans. I want to encourage you today to see your current purpose in God’s work within the Young Life mission. The Lord still wants to use you in His kingdom-building purpose, despite your age or your phase of life.
I mentioned before that I am 59 years old. I have been a volunteer Young Life leader for about 30 years; you lose track after a while. I can proudly say that I am a Young Life leader who does skits, gives talks, goes to camp, sleeps on a bunk bed, and is, thankfully, never allowed to lead singing. I can also say, boldly, that if you think you are too old, too uncool, or too grumpy to lead a Young Life or Wyldlife club you are radically wrong! In fact, you can lead club and I would say that the younger leaders need you.
If you can think of reasons why you should not lead club, you are in good company that dates back thousands of years. Early in Bible writings the Lord asked a young man to listen, follow him, and lead a group. That young man was full of excuses: I stutter; I am not a good speaker, besides no one will listen to me. He asked God why should they listen to me? And, what if they don’t believe me or relate to me? Then finally, he told God to send someone else! God did not take his excuses and had other plans for that young man that we call Moses (See Exodus 3). You might have “valid reasons” you should not be involved so much in ministry but God wants to give you the adventure of a lifetime. That only comes through your faithfulness! What a blessing Moses was to the Israelites and what a blessing you can be to younger leaders.
What younger leaders need from you:
1) Participation – Participation can take various forms:
- Lead a Young Life or Wyldlife group alongside some younger leaders. If you laughed at that and said you are too old, you are in good company. Didn’t Abraham and Sarah say something like that when asked to serve? It worked out OK for them, I think. Don’t worry, the other leaders won’t expect you to stay up all night, play soccer all afternoon, or know all the latest music and slang. However, they will expect you to be genuine, thoughtful, and invested.
- Give your time, talent, and treasures. Do you have a CAR (that belongs to God)? Some of the younger YL leaders have cars they are not sure will make it to camp. For some, using their car every week to pick up kids will burden them to getting more gas, more oil changes and other expensive things that are hard to afford when you work at the pizza parlor and are taking on student loans. Give your leaders your car; yes you will have to vacuum up Doritos out of the back seat. What did God expect of that car when he gave you the resources to get it? Do you have a HOUSE (that belongs to God)? Your leaders need a place to meet without kids. Your leaders need a place to do campaigners. Your leaders need someone who will cook them a meal, ask about their goals, ask about their family, ask about their walk with God; no agenda, no meeting, just loving.
2) Prayer and follow up – caring about them as young, vibrant, individual people with a life outside of the YL mission, asking about the progress in those areas where you are praying. They all have hopes, dreams, a desire to follow God, jobs, classes, families, romantic relationships, and so on. They would love your prayers for those things.
3) Perspective – you are further down the road of life, have gone through many phases of life walking with the Lord, or walking away from the Lord. Either way they need your perspective to keep life’s demands and challenges in alignment with God’s teaching and will. Don’t minimize their struggles, rather, engage in their issues and remind them that God loves them, calls them to ministry, and has a plan for their future that includes walking with God all the days of their life.
4) Practical faithfulness – looking past excuses, looking past the pressures of life, looking past their career and family goals, and see that the Lord of the universe invites them into the mystery of ministry for a lifetime. Ministry is not just a young person’s game; the Christian life was never intended to have a phase where you retire from ministry, settle into a church pew, and let the professionals take over. The Lord will call us home one day; we will die and we will no longer have a ministry on this planet. You are not dead, therefore, the Lord is not done with you. If you are not done following the Lord, then you are not done with his missional work either.
5) Partner in imperfection, humility, and repentance - we are all imperfect sinners, saved by grace. They need to see us partner with them as equals, not lecturers. They need to see where you are growing, struggling, and trusting God. They need to see that your imperfection is not a barrier to ministry, and in fact may be one of the qualifications.
The Lord has gifted you for a lifetime. The Lord has called you to serve for your entire lifetime. Will you consider that the Lord is not done with you yet? Will you prayerfully consider (re)joining the front lines of God’s missional work through Young Life? Wyldlife? Young Life College? Young Lives? Young Life Capernaum? Or any of the other ministries that are attached to this magazine? As you consider this, please know that the Lord goes before you, with you, and through you. May he bless you in whatever stage of life you are currently in and may he bless you too many times to count! As he blesses you, may you find joy in blessing and serving others.
Author, Young Life Leader, Old Guy