Category Archives: Youth work

A Letter to My Church

To our brother and sisters, our friends and our family in Oregon:

The time has come to remember, to celebrate, and to part ways. Our time here has come to an end so that you may walk into a new beginning. Our epilogue is the new beginning of what God is doing next here in this place, through you and in you.

We are grieving our separation from you as deeply as you are grieving us. But we must turn to the next thing, becoming single-minded as we stretch and begin the next leg of our race, and so must you. Yes, this is difficult. It was not for no reason that the apostle Paul called it “straining” toward the goal. It is a strain. It is difficult. Yet we press on.

We are grateful to you for countless moments shared talking, laughing, crying, praying, eating, playing, working, and singing. We are grateful for your help and hospitality, your patience and forgiveness, your love and affection for us and our daughter. Truly we could not have asked more of a congregation. But as we prepare to step away, I ask one thing:

If you love us, feed these sheep.

Feed the children and teens and young adults who come to church, and the ones who don’t. Feed the Frontline kids, the Young Life kids, the graduates, and the younger siblings. Feed their parents and their unplanned babies. Feed the hungry and the stuffed with overconfidence; the talented and the awkward; the go-getters and the do-nothings; the thinkers, dreamers, in-betweeners. Feed their leaders all the support, resources, and encouragement they can hold.

Feed them with Oreos and soda and pizza and chips. Feed them Mondays before Club and Sundays at Frontline. Feed them a sandwich at the game, lunch out just to talk, or a holiday feast in your home. Feed them the next day with the leftovers you sent home.

Feed them the Word, with Scripture that never changes in language they can understand. Feed them words of recognition and encouragement in the grocery store, at the car wash, on the street. Feed them the Living Word by being the Christ who gives rides to town, who helps with financial aid forms, who simply knows their name. Be Christ with your presence where they are competing or performing or just plain being.

You can do this. You can make a difference. You are ready.

We have taken many steps together, but you can go on in this work without us. God is with you. He will make a way. “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3).

And so, as the time draws near, I am finding rest in remembering that Jehovah Jireh, the God Who Provides, is also the Prince of Peace. He will make the way, and He will be present to comfort us when the road seems long and the distance great. And so, dear friends,

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

(Ephesians 3:14–21)

He is able, and I know you are willing. I can’t wait to see what He does with you next.



Graduation Matters

Saturday in early June: graduation day in Smallport.

Funny hats. Crepe paper. Lame metaphors. Overfrosted cake. It seems like a lot of hype for something everyone’s supposed to do, doesn’t it? Most people these days do get their high school diploma. Where I grew up, most kids were heading to four-year colleges. High school graduation wasn’t the achievement; it was just a step along the way.

Then there’s all the clichés. A whole new beginning—really? The most significant day of your life—really? If these graduates are going to go out and change the world, how come after all these years it hasn’t really changed much?

Yeah, I’m trained to be cynical about graduation. But I also remember: for some kids, graduating really is a major achievement. It really is the end of their education, and it may be the point after which they’re on their own—and in this world of postmodern adolescence and this town of poverty and drugs, a lot of them have already been on their own in too many ways for too long.

I graduated with over four hundred others, and families were not supposed to cheer when our names were called, because the band members’ fingers were already cramped from playing “Pomp and Circumstance” twenty times. Only those who were trying to be funny or thought the rules shouldn’t apply to them dare violate this edict. Everyone just wants to move on. We took it for granted.

In a small town and a small school, graduation is different. Here there are about fifty graduates, and the ceremony is open to all. Every graduate’s name is on the wall. Every one appears in the senior video, their cute baby photos and awkward middle school days and greatest sports achievements fading into each other over John Cougar Mellencamp and Green Day. And every one gets their moment of applause and whoops from the crowd when their name is called. We pause. We let each one have their moment. We join in, because even if we are not family, when we come together in the old, echoey gym, we are community.

When these community members—not your parents—were the only ones cheering for you at your game, at your play, at your poetry reading, their cheers for you now matter.

When you are first in your family to earn a diploma, graduation is a big deal. It matters.

When you walk with a baby in your arms, commencement is a victory. It matters.

When you have difficulty learning, a diploma is a prize. It matters.


So today, we cheered. We cheered for them all: for Chatterbox and The Playmaker; for the cheerleader and the guitar guy and the computer geek; for the valedictorian and the one who almost didn’t pass; for the one everyone in town knows and the one who wonders if anyone would miss him if he were gone.

They deserve it.

They matter.

Congratulations, class of 2009.