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We were told last night that a young man from one of our past youth groups ended his own life last week. He was a sharp college student in California with a promising basketball career. When we were his youth pastors he was just beginning high school.
It hit Robin and I quite hard. Our hearts go out to his family. His parents were very loving and supportive, as were his siblings. We have been praying for them a lot since we learned of the tragedy.
While we will never know just what he was truly struggling with, we do know that he was loved everywhere he went. He was respectful, courteous and kind. When we knew him he had a deep love for God, even though he was fairly shy. Apparently he came out of his shell as he grew older.
It got me to thinking... youth pastors only have a few years with the students God sends them. These students have real hopes and dreams, and have been created by God for a significant purpose. Unfortunately they also bear all-too-real hurts, disappointments and pain. Many carry hidden scars.
Sadly we sometimes get too busy to notice that the people around us are hurting. When I was a youth pastor at a megachurch I was often so busy preparing to minister to students that I missed God-given opportunities to connect with them. What's really dumb about this is that these same students were the very reason I was there in the first place. How crazy is it to be too busy getting ready to invest in students, only to miss the face to face opportunity to do so?!?!
Youth pastors (and church leaders): Please choose to be present when you're with your people... and most importantly, when you're with your family. We have only a limited time with them. And if people are truly important to you, you will make time for them. We have to intentionally slow down. We need to ask God to help us notice the people around us.
This is EXACTLY what Jesus did. He was willing to be interrupted, or, as John Maxwell says, "He walked slowly through the crowd." Mark writes that as He was heading out to heal the synagogue leader's daughter, a woman with uncontrollable bleeding forced her way through the HUGE crowd to get to Jesus. She touched his clothes and was instantly healed. Jesus realized that God's power had gone out from Him, so He turned around to find out who had done it. When the woman told Him her story He commended her for her faith. All this happened while He was on His way to heal a man's dying daughter. Jesus wasn't in a hurry!
Youth pastors often thrive on last-minute preparations and flying by the seat of our pants. And that forces the youth leaders that serve with us to also be unnecessarily busy. We need to become better stewards of our time, finishing our preparation early enough to be fully present and focus on the people right in front of us. This also empowers those that serve with us to do the same.
While I did my best to pour my life into this student, I'm sure there were opportunities I missed. And I'll never get that chance again. It's one of the regrets I will carry with me. I'm determined from here on out to make better use of the influence God has given me. I don't want to miss the chance to impart hope to someone who's hurting. It's absolutely what Jesus would have done.
Rest in peace, my friend!