So in September, I had the honor of officiating my cousin Stephen’s wedding. It was a wonderful time, but a quick comment by someone really frustrated me.
I was talking to a man about my job as a Youth Pastor, he asked me some questions about his daughter who was not saved and how to convert her to Christianity. He continued to tell me the things he had been saying to what I assume was to somehow show her that she needed to be a Christian or her life would be really bad? I am honestly not sure what his goal was. It was what many “Christians” do these days, things people say that will only push people away from Jesus.
I proceeded to warn him that if he continued to do what he was doing, he would only push his daughter away and it was not going to help her see Jesus or Christianity in a good way. His response was, well, you read and judge for yourself what it was.
“Do you have kids?” He asked, and I already knew where he was going with this. I said no and he simply gave some snide smirk, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’ll understand one day.”
It took everything in me not to say or do something out of anger, because I may not have kids of my own, but I believe I understand what it means to be a good father, not to the degree of someone who actually has their own children, but to some degree, even if it is small.
The Papa Bear
When I was 19 years old, I interned at my home church in Georgia, I was leading a group of 6th-grade boys in a weekly small group. When our entire student ministry went to a summer camp, all of my guys had been pranked. Another group of students went into our room, took all of their stuff and hid it in their room, making them believe their stuff had been stolen.
When they found out who did this to them they found me and informed me that another leader was the culprit behind the prank, encouraging his students to prank my students. So I approached the leader and demanded that he apologize to my students. He said no, and I was instantly triggered. I was incredibly angry and threatened him if he did not apologize to my 6th-grade boys. I was completely blind by being so protective over my guys, that I did not realize that my shouting at this leader stirred up quite the crowd, which had to be diffused by some of the church staff who were also leaders at the summer camp.
It takes a lot to get me angry, certain things trigger my anger quicker than others. But I don’t like being angry with people, because I know what I am capable of when I am angry and I’d rather be kind to others. In retrospect, I should have approached this leader privately, and demanding things from him in front of a crowd only stirred a scene. But at the moment I didn’t know better, all I knew was my students were hurt and they trusted me to make things better.
After being pulled away from the situation, I started to cry and apologize to my boss. It happens every time I get infuriated. Why? I don’t know, probably because I know that I can be incredibly frightening when I am angry. Or it might just be because I am an emotional dude, whose to say which it is? ha-ha! One of the other leaders comforted me after I had calmed down, she has known me most of my life and proceeded to tell me that she understood that I was just protective, that I was just being “Papa Bear.”
Being A Father Without Kids
I don’t have children of my own, I don’t even have a wife (taking applications). Honestly, I still struggle with whether I even want to bring children into this crazy world, the idea of parenting terrifies me. But despite all of that, I grow parental-like bonds with my students. I love my students. I want to challenge them and watch them grow so that they can experience the same abundant life that I have found by simply loving Jesus. I care about what their opinion of my Jesus is, I care about them.
There are moments where I feel like a father without having kids. When they are sad and talk to me, I listen to them. When they laugh at me because I am being goofy and am purposefully embarrassing them in the “lame dad” kind of way, I smile. When they are irritating or annoying, I am patient with them. When they ask me to attend their school play, I support them as one of their fans.
When we are at a bowling alley and a student asks if I could buy them a soda, I buy them the largest size, just to make them happy. When I am ice skating with my students and one of the middle school girls asks me to teach her how to ice skate, I joyfully show her one step at a time. When that student grabs hold of my hand and tells me to pull her so she can go faster, I do it with my heart full because I know that she believed that I would never let her fall.
I teach them not just about God, but about life. When a guy asks me how to ask a girl to be his girlfriend, I give him advice, telling him to ask for her dad’s permission first. When another guy tells me he is going to break up with a girl and says he is going to do it over text message, I correct him and make sure he does it in person so he understands what it means to respect women; to value their emotions, and to bear the responsibility of saying something hard to someone, to say it with gentleness.
These are only a few examples that give me the privilege of being a father without children. Though these kids are not my own, I love them as if they were. It is my hope that parents understand that Youth Pastors can grow parental-like bonds with their children. I may not be their biological father, but perhaps something along the lines of a “spiritual father?” Take a look at the Apostle Paul, what he says to the Christians in the city of Corinth.
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 (ESV)
Clearly, Paul is not their biological father, but a “spiritual father.” Throughout his letters, Paul relates teaching Christians like raising children. In that relationship, he is like a father to them. This is the same role that Youth Pastors play in the lives of their students. We are not the biological parents of the child, and we have no desire to replace you, we only want to be a resource for you.While every parent wants to raise their children well physically, my hope is that I could help them raise their children well spiritually. Click To Tweet
Not Your Replacement, Your Resource
I wonder if many parents do not seek out their local Youth Pastor because they fear they will somehow be replaced? I do not know if this is true, because I do not have children of my own. But, if it was true, I never desire to replace parents, I want to be a resource. While every parent wants to raise their children well physically, my hope is that I could help them raise their children well spiritually. Mothers, biologically, have natural gifts given to them by God to raise their children physically. More than likely, parents will read books to equip themselves as best they can to be physical parents.As a resource to parents, a Youth Pastor can provide a unique perspective into their child's life. Click To Tweet
As a Pastor, God gave me spiritual gifts that I could help the parents of my students, to help them raise their children spiritually. Informal education through personal study and years of experience through intentional ministry, formal education through attending Bible college, these were all so that I could be better equipped at helping parents raise their children spiritually. You could say these were my spiritual versions of “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” Haha!
Partnering Is A Two Way Street
As a resource to parents, a Youth Pastor can provide a unique perspective into their child’s life. While we may not have “the answer” for how they should raise their child, this unique perspective helps parents discern the wisest way to parent their child. A partnership between parents and their Youth Pastor is a great way to ensure their child grows up with a good influence, but a partnership is a two-way street.
My challenge to you as parents who may be reading this is simple: partner with your Youth Pastor. He/she would leap at the opportunity but, if they are anything like me, they may need some help. Or at least an open door of permission. Imagine what it would look like if you partnered with your Youth to be a resource in raising your child? Not a book, giving advice based on generalizations of the current generation of students. But a person who loves your child, who knows them personally, sees them from a unique perspective, who wants them to grow up to be mature. To see them love others as God loves them. To see them raised well not just physically, but spiritually.