Acts Of Service
BY PASTOR TONY REA | OCTOBER 19, 2020
I Can (series)
Last week I told you about the early days of my student ministry experience and mentioned it wasn’t an easy transition for me. I guess I really didn’t know what to expect when I was ordained as a pastor; I’m not sure it would have mattered even if I did. I was simply trying to follow God’s will for my life, and at that point I was confident He called me to fulltime youth ministry.
Now, even today—after all these years—when people find out I used to be a cop, the first thing they want to know is how many people I’ve shot. What follows is a plethora of inquires like: Is it true all cops love donuts? (Who doesn’t?) What’s the best way to get out of a ticket? How many fights have you been in? Do police officers have a hard time believing anyone is telling the truth? Some of these topics can be awkward, and at times the conversation can get intense. For the most part, I try to lighten things up and add a little humor.
Such is the case when people ask me about my youth pastor days. Instead of wanting to know how many students I shot (joke), they usually ask me about the crazy experiences I encountered during youth activities. So let’s start there...
Every summer we would plan a day trip to Sandusky, Ohio. The Cedar Point outing was one of the students’ favorite events, and every year we would pack out the church bus. If my memory serves me right, bus capacity might have been 39 to 40 students max, but we usually squeezed in closer to 50 kids. On this one occasion we had a full house, and there was no margin for error. On the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the park, the rules were laid out clearly. (This is where my police training came in handy.) I made sure everyone was aware of the requirements and that there was no question in anyone’s mind what was expected of him or her.
After a very successful day at the park, we were on our way home without incident. Can you believe it? We monitored 40 plus teens all day long with no parental supervision; and, for the most part, the group’s behavior was impeccable. I remember bragging about it to a few of the youth leaders. On the way home, our bus suddenly came to an abrupt stop. I looked up in time to see another church bus pull directly in front of us and hit the brakes. A man from the bus ran directly to our bus and started pounding on the door. We let him in; and that’s when he informed me that a teen on our bus mooned all the kids on his bus—an Ebenezer Baptist Church bus, no less! I told him he must be mistaken, and that’s when he pointed to the kid who was responsible. At that moment I knew the guy he identified was guilty. I sincerely apologized to the Baptist pastor and assured him the situation would be dealt with.
On another occasion, one summer we decided to take the kids to Camp Awanita in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina. This was an extremely ambitious endeavor and consisted of an eight-vehicle caravan. I think we had just under 80 people in the group, including youth leaders. We drove through the night and, all told, were on the road for no less than 18 hours. When we arrived, I was exhausted. I think I had been up for 30 hours straight. Needless to say, that night I crashed hard. When I woke up the next morning, I was very surprised to see all my toenails had been polished a bright pink color. For the first and only time in my youth pastor career, I let my guard down during an event, and the kids successfully pranked me. What they didn’t know, however, is Terese just happened to have nail polish remover in her possession. I cleaned all the polish from my toes and feet and covered everything up with a thick pair of sweat socks. I then proceeded to the camp mess hall for breakfast.
Of course the kids who did the pranking started to taunt me. They wanted all the other campers to see their handiwork, and, in so doing, humiliate me. The kids tried to remove my socks, but I strategically fought them off. Finally, after the group’s emotions were worked into a rich lather, I removed my socks, and immediately the crowd went silent. To all the campers’ shock and disbelief, there wasn’t a single drop of pink polish on my feet—anywhere. Needless to say, the pranksters were ticked!
One more... At yet another summer camp—this one at a wooded-cabin site in Tecumseh, Michigan, I was informed by one of my CIs (confidential informants) that several campers had actually broken curfew. This was a major violation of the house rules. Once the youth leaders retired for the night and went to bed (usually after midnight), teens were strictly forbidden from leaving their cabins. On this occasion, a half dozen or so campers not only broke curfew, they ransacked the snack-shack and proceeded to go on a 2 a.m. canoe trip in the pitch black. This was an extremely dangerous stunt and it warranted me canceling the free-time activities the following evening. All campers were sent to their cabins immediately following the night service, and no one was allowed out of their cabins after 9 p.m. If anyone violated the rule, parents would have been called to make the 90-minute drive to come pick up their expelled student.
Well that night after the youth leaders went to bed, since no one wanted their parents to show up at camp, instead of breaking curfew, one of the female campers decided to entertain a few of the boys who were still awake. This gal walked out onto the cabin deck and with music playing, performed an abbreviated moonlight exotic dance show. The next day I started to hear rumors of what happened; as you might imagine, I was not happy. I thought about breaking camp right then and there and heading home, but we persevered and I’m glad we did. After a very rocky start to the camp, the Lord showed up, and that summer, as a group, we experienced tremendous spiritual breakthrough.
Hearing these kinds of stories, some of you might be thinking, “I’m not sure I would be very effective mentoring students or working with teens.” Maybe you would conclude that you don’t have a penchant or the patience for that kind of assignment. But here’s the truth, you do have a God-ordained spiritual gift of some kind. God has gifted each and every one of us with a measure of His grace; and He has purposed that we all put our hand to the plow and serve the Kingdom of God in some capacity.
Over the past 36 years of fulltime ministry, I have worked with countless volunteers. Here’s what I’ve learned, when you discover and develop your spiritual gift, when you are hitting the sweet spot of service to God through the local church, there is nothing more rewarding or fulfilling in this life—and I mean nothing.
Ephesians 4:7 (NLT)
…He (God) has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
Romans 12:6-8 (NLT)
In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
Colossians 3:17 (NIV)
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.