“Every pastor’s a youth pastor.”
I was the new youth pastor at Meridian Friends (Idaho), and since I’d just moved to the Treasure Valley, I’d been making calls on other Friends churches, trying to get to know people, trying to make connections. At Nampa Friends, Mark was the interim pastor, and when I asked about who was working with youth, Mark said he guessed that was what he’d been doing.
Mark had been the pastor at Nampa. And then he’d retired. And then he’d come out of retirement to pastor the older congregation once again. He thought that he was probably one of its younger members. They didn’t really have any youth. But there were youth in the neighborhood. Mark hosted a Bible study for teen fathers, and he’d helped one young man find a way to go to college – first by convincing the student that he could succeed, second by contacting the college in question for help with funds, finally by working with the young man to get his car running well enough to make it to Kansas for the first day of classes.
It was clear, though, that Mark was discouraged. If every pastor’s a youth pastor, then every member of a healthy congregation helps to care for, nurture, and love the youth and children in that community. But Mark felt isolated in his work with youth. He confided in me that he wasn’t really qualified, that it was hard for him to connect with young people, and that some people in his church didn’t think he was being wise about how he used his time or who he spent it with.
For a while, Mark and I met roughly once a month to share ideas, to dream about the future, to pray for each other. And then Mark retired for good. And then Nampa Friends closed its doors. There’s a Walgreens there now. I guess nothing lasts forever.
But those words Mark spoke to me. On the phone. 19 years ago. I think they’re still true. Every pastor’s a youth pastor. And every healthy congregation cares for, nurtures, and loves the youth and children in its community.
Oh, and I almost forgot. I never told Mark, but the young man he helped was a friend of mine. He doesn’t live in Idaho anymore, either. He’s a pastor, and several times he and I have talked about what it means to invest in students. The same way an old pastor once invested in him.