We were at a red light when my life changed forever. I was on my way to Walmart with my youth pastor—he’d invited me to tag along on a shopping trip for an upcoming lock-in. We needed to buy chips and Hula-Hoops. At the time, my mom was dying, and my dad might as well have been dead for all the engagement I had with him. Though I was alive in Christ, my heart had been sucked dry by the challenges I faced at home. Michael Jackson was playing in the car (hey, it was the 80’s!) as we waited for the light to turn green. We pulled into intersection and—crash!—my youth pastor said something to me that altered the course of my relationship with Jesus…
“You know,” he said, “when life is crazy or chaotic at home, it can seem like God is chaotic—but He isn’t. He’s peace personified. And even when it seems like we can’t trust our earthly parents, that’s not God. He never leaves us. He never forsakes us.”
“When life is crazy or chaotic at home, it can seem like God is chaotic—but He isn’t. He’s peace personified. And even when it seems like we can’t trust our earthly parents, that’s not God. He never leaves us. He never forsakes us.”Click to tweet
That’s some serious spiritual truth, unloaded on me in the middle of that intersection. I bet he wasn’t planning to change the trajectory of my life on a trip to Walmart, and of course I wasn’t anticipating it, but I remember his words from 30 years ago as if they were spoken to me yesterday.
Obviously, the “typical” youth ministry discipleship strategies had nothing to do with this life-changing moment—it wasn’t a Bible study or a retreat or a service experience that rocked my world. It was a trip to Walmart. And don’t trips to the Walmarts of the world remind us of how Jesus most often shows up in our lives to transform us—most of our life-changing moments happen while we’re “walking along the road” with Him. Yes, Jesus did a little preaching, but most of His impact happened in the course of everyday life—the mundane and plain transformed into the holy and sacred.
My “intersection moment” happened in the 80’s, when few were thinking about background checks, and few had ministry handbooks to follow. Youth workers simply called up kids to invite them to “come over and play video games” or “help me get some stuff at the grocery store.” Times have changed, and we know we have to be much more careful in our interactions with students. So how do we seize these “on the way” moments, capturing the power of the everyday life to seed deep change in our teenagers?
- Where two OR MORE are gathered in his name. Take a few kids to Walmart instead of just one. You’ll need at least that many to navigate the Walmart greeters anyway. I wasn’t the only kid lost in the whirlwind of what my family was going through. And that truth-crash in the intersection would’ve wrecked me just as significantly if there had been a few other people in the back seat.
- Do something outside. Basketball, bike rides, or a good park bench are all options. You’re in public. Parents can drop a kid at a location and survey the scene. And you still have plenty of space for the holy to happen.
- Hang at the kid’s house (with parents there and never in a closed room). It provides a ton of traction and credibility with Mom and Dad, and you get a deeper glimpse into the real world of a teenager’s life. True, a student might be less compelled to be open in their home environment. But if you already have relationship forming, and you ask the right questions, you might find them more open than you expected.
Jesus took people fishing, sat with them in grief, and went water skiing with his friends (sort of)… He understood that the divine actually happens in the day-to-day. What you say at the red light can stick for a lifetime.