Wild Stories Of Faith & Foolishness
A Fine Line Of Connection In Youth Ministry
By Chris Renzelman • National Network of Youth Ministries • Renton, Washington
Identifying with others who share a common heart for ministry is encouraging. This is especially true for those who experience the daily realities of youth ministry — realities that sometimes make parents, pastors and insurance companies shudder.
In collecting true-life stories from veteran youth workers who have walked (maybe I should say “lived through”) the ups and downs of youth ministry, I’ve come across some interesting tales that reveal a fine line of connection between Faith and Foolishness.
When seasoned youthworkers get together, they often swap tales of adventures with students, volunteers, interns, senior pastors, boards, and parents. I’ve heard horror stories about church vehicles, and tales of woe while headed to camp, a mission project, or other generic road trips. My collection of such stories is quite extensive. This article avoids documentation and names in order to protect the guilty!
Surely you can envision the details on these stories — in fact, you may have had a similar experience, but hopefully not like this first one. A “retreat from hell” found a very frustrated youth leader seeking to discipline a rebellious student with an oar firmly placed on his rear-end. While the obstinate student was bent over in a canoe, the oar was on its way — only to glance off the student and into the face of a nearby gal who came into the line of fire once the oar was beyond the point of no return. This event was only one of many that happened during this particular retreat. In spite of the many challenges that the group faced, God worked in significant ways.
At another retreat, a leader attempting to restrain students from escaping the cabin on the last night of camp used the church van to barricade the only exit door from the room. The students still managed to escape through a small window.
Many groups experience bus or van problems on road trips. On one ski trip to Colorado, the bus driver experienced wiper failure in the middle of a heavy snowstorm. Several fixes were attempted — each failing. Success came as one person, sitting on a 5-gallon bucket, looked out the front window on the passenger side and coached the driver down the road as he veered to the right or left. Another bus broke down on a bridge during rush hour traffic. The throttle cable to the engine in the back was malfunctioning. Help came by placing a leader in the engine compartment of the bus. The contained leader worked the throttle at the carburetor, knowing he could slow or stop the engine anytime, while the driver put on the brakes or used the clutch and gears to maintain upfront control. With his assistance, they were able to travel 20 miles safely to their camp.
A mechanical failure with church vehicles seems common. I wonder how many failed-brake stories exist. One tells of three buses cruising down the freeway. As the lead bus lost control of its brakes, the other two worked in harmony to get a bus in front of the runaway and slowly reduce its speed. Connecting the bumpers, they braked to a stop just before the freeway ended at the fast-approaching intersection. In the stories you and I have heard and lived through, God’s hand of protection has been amazing. Our ministry, unfortunately, has not been the only one to roll a vehicle — ours was a bus.
Probably more often would be stories of students squeezing into a vehicle. We put an excessive number of students into a 15-passenger van and then drove it down a mountain. Having taken a day trip to Mt. Rainier, we left the bus at a parking lot mid-way up and shuttled students to the top area. The shuttling up and down was perfectly timed until the park, because of inclement weather, closed the road early and interrupted our scheduled trips. I feverishly sought to place students into any of the cars owned by other park visitors. Graciously, many accommodated us. With all available vehicles filled, we ended up layering 33 students into the 15-passenger van and then crept ever so slowly off the mountain. Fortunately, that adventure didn’t also experience a brake failure!
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Have you ever been run over by the van you were driving? As one leader stepped out of the van to check a trailer, the van began to roll. Trying to get back to the brake pedal, he slipped and fell back out of the van — and the tire rolled onto his foot. A quick-thinking student slipped into the driver seat, applied the brakes, and saved the youth leader from further injury.
How about stories of missing equipment? Or, in this case, failing to fill the earth ball with air for a group event? No fear, a quick trip to the service station would soon have it ready, but the trip took a bit longer than expected. On the return trip to the church, the 6-foot ball, which was sitting untied in the bed of a truck, bounced out and rolled down the road toward an approaching car with a wide-eyed driver. Fortunately, it bounced over the car, was quickly retrieved and secured.
I’ve heard many stories on many topics. Can you imagine how everyone would feel with the preacher using the wrong name for the bride throughout the wedding ceremony? Or how would you feel after spending 8 hours being interrogated at a border crossing because when you said, “tourist group” the border guard thought he heard “terrorist group”? And this was before 9/11!
Maybe you have a story worth telling. The stories Iʼm collecting will be released topically as Stories of Faith and Foolishness. Revenues beyond the cost of production will be used to underwrite the training costs of youth workers. So when you think, “I remember when…” from your own life and ministry, give me a call. Your story will encourage others to press on in their ministry, seeing God’s faithfulness when something goes wrong or they do something foolish. Oh, by the way — did you hear about… “Ding! Ding!” The coffee’s ready!