It was January 2000. Tim Youmans had been at FBC Shawnee just a few months. We had become good friends. He and Karen had been a blast of fresh air into my life and my religious life. I was becoming disenchanted with church before Tim and bored of my roles leading the college ministry, serving as a deacon, and being on the task force that oversaw the creation of our ministries center (which kept bogging down). But Tim and Karen had rejuvenated me. And I think I helped Tim in a lot of ways. He too needed a friend of like mind while trying to navigate his return to Oklahoma baptist life (something he's still trying to navigate).
Tim asked me to go as a sponsor to the January Retreat which was on the weekend of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. I agreed to go, with some reluctance. I had never felt an affinity for youth ministry. Though I had been called as a minister at the age of five (though my Mom will say she knew it before I was even born) and had been ordained in 1997, I had never felt any interest in youth ministry. Once, in college, our youth minister back in Miami asked me to do youth stuff and I told him "I'm not good at that. I didn't understand teenagers when I was one, and I definitely don't now."
There was a party at my house the Friday night we were leaving. We laughed about me going on a youth retreat. One of my friends drove me over to the church where we were gathering to get on the bus to go. I sat up front with Tim and Jan Tipton and David James, both good friends. We had long been on the same sides of lots of church issues. Jan was social justice and missions oriented. She was divorced and re-married. David is a recovering alcoholic. They were people who had lived life and could speak with honesty and integrity about the good and the bad. Tim, Jan, David, and I have long been great conversation companions (and dominoes players!).
When we got going, Tim introduced me to the bus of youth. Though I had been in the church for six years and had been prominent in church leadership roles, I did not know many of the teenagers or them me.
Will Sims was a sophomore and not a member of FBC. He was a Methodist who, along with a bunch of non-FBC, non-baptist kids, came with their friends to our youth group. When Tim introduced me as "Deacon Scott," Will somehow misheard and misunderstood (we still don't know how) and thought my name was "Stevie Deacs." Needless to say, that nickname stuck and there are a group of early-twentysomethings out there who still call me that or the shortened "Deacs."
Little did I know that that nickname was just the beginning. Will wanted to talk to me and ask me questions. Being a philosopher, sometimes people are curious what this is and what you know. He pulled me into conversations with him and the other sophomore guys like Matt, Tyler, Tony, O'Sung, Adam, Aaron, etc. Over the course of the weekend we talked and played. They fell in love with Capture the Flag the way I taught it to them.
That weekend I saw in Tim's ministry a youth minstry I had never seen or experienced. He was singing secular songs. He was singing religious songs that were edgy and profound at the same time. He played a video of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The topics we dealt with were radical issues -- racism, economic prejudice, homosexuality, etc. Wow! Could youth ministry really do this?
And those teenagers drew me in. They asked me questions. Frank questions. Serious questions. Silly questions. Deep questions.
And it didn't stop. After that weekend they wanted me to start coming on Wednesday nights. Tim recruited me to lead a series that February on the philosophy of religion, and they packed the room to hear these discussions of the problem of evil, religious pluralism, the nature of God, etc. Finally they talked me into coming every Wednesday. Then they wanted me to come to their guys' cell group on Sunday nights. So, I joined that. We'd meet for dinner at the Little's house and Rocky Wade would lead the devotional. Then we'd go upstairs and play pool and ping pong and watch Jackass together. But that wasn't enough. They wanted me to teach their Sunday school class, so eventually I resigned as director of the college ministry and became the 9th & 10th grade teacher. Within four months I had a completely different set of roles to fill at church.
Not just these guys, but all the youth, asked me questions. I had early on decided that I would always answer honestly and directly and wouldn't simplify the complex things. They asked about the bible and prayer and theological issues. But they also asked about drugs and drinking and sex and dating and every range of real life issues. And they weren't asking theory. They wanted to know what I had done and what I hadn't. What my views were. Etc. And, as promised, I answered even when it wasn't flattering to me to tell the truth.
What happened? They opened up to me. They shared about their struggles with drugs and alcohol. They shared about the sex they were having. They wanted to talk about loneliness. They talked about troubles with their parents. They talked about all the everyday ethical choices they faced. And in those moments I ministered to them.
In February 2001 when I was trying to decide to pursue academia or the job at Rolling Hills, I had a moment of spiritual revelation in Tim's office. As a minister I could have more practical impact on actually helping people than I could as a professor. Why did I have that moment? Because two parents had just come in to talk to Tim and me about their daughter being institutionalized for an eating disorder. And just the week before one of our kids had BOTH their parents arrested for sexually abusing their nieces. And that same week a bisexual girl in the group had told me and Tim that she had been raped by a boy.
God called me to youth ministry. God used Tim Youmans and Will Sims and Matt Little and Tyler Holland and Adam Shepherd and Aaron Vogel and Jan Tipton and David James and Carrie Dyer and Andrea Collum and Molly McMurry and Marshall Behre and too many other kids to name but that these will stand as representatives of. And they called me to a ministry that meant really helping kids with the real issues that they face. The things they face in life are rarely nice. But I do everything I can to be open to the teenagers in my care, to let them know that I'm a real person who has faced things similar to what they have faced, that I've lived a real life. And every time, every time, the return is that they open up and share their lives with me and maybe, just maybe, I can help.