I remember it like it happened yesterday. While on a youth group retreat, we took a long break to play a game of football. Our associate pastor in charge of the youth went up for a pass and three of us tackled him.
It was supposed to be “two-hand touch.” He laughed and we paid a price as he began to play harder. After we got home, he was so sore he went to the doctor and discovered that he had cracked three ribs.
His name was Rev. Richardson — and at the time he was working with us young people — he was in his early 60s. We affectionately called him “Rev.” And while we were all trying to look like the Beatles or Rolling Stones, his gray hair was cut in a military flat top. But it didn’t matter because we knew he really cared about us.
One Sunday morning “Rev.” was waiting for me on the church steps. Before I could tell him about our football game we had just played against a rival high school on Saturday, he pulled me aside and gently shared that my friend, a member of our youth group and a teammate on our football team, had died during the night on the way home from the school dance we all attemded.
He complained to us that the strobe lights were giving him a headache so he drove home — we didn’t think anything of it. But he never made it home. They found him pulled over by the side of the road dead from a brain aneurism. Rev put his arm around me and we just stood silently together for the longest time.
I loved going to church all through my teens. I know that sounds weird to a lot of young people today — but I loved going to church because at my church I had adults who cared about me. Not just Rev, but adults who taught me Sunday School, put up with me in youth choir, who worked with our MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) that met every Sunday night.
All of us young people felt valued. We felt loved. And we learned a lot — not about the Bible, though it was being taught, but about life, character and “growing up.” We learned it from the adults who sacrificed their spare time and energy to share their lives with my generation.
I’m concerned that “spiritual parents” are AWOL (absent without leave) in our churches today. I cringe every time I hear a Sunday School director, Vacation Bible School coordinator or youth group sponsor beg the congregation during announcements, “Please, somebody, anybody — we need you!” Both kids and adults miss out when spiritual parenting isn’t happening.
This Father’s Day, when we honor dads, let’s challenge men and women of all ages to step up to the plate to be “spiritual moms and dads” to this generation of young people who so desperately need us. Let’s get to know the youth in our churches. Engage them and spend time with them. Let’s share our lives and faith with them as we walk with them in the seasons of their lives.
I don’t care if you call it “coaching,” “mentoring” or “making disciples” — faith in Jesus and living daily for Him is better “caught than taught.” The Apostle Paul knew that when he told us to “follow me as I follow Christ!” (1 Cor. 11:1)
One of the most endearing passages in the New Testament is when Paul addressed his young “apprentice” pastor, Timothy: “I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith.” 1 Timothy 1:2 (NLT)
Paul calls Timothy his son several times, though not through birth, but through “spiritual parenting” and sharing his heart and life with this young man.
The greatest assets any child or young person can have are God-loving parents who live their faith and model what godly men and women look like. A close second is to have a handful of “spiritual parents” who invest their lives in young people, building relationships, and helping them discover God’s great purpose for their lives.