God calls certain people to an incomparable task: to inspire youth and young adults. A quick look back through my history causes me to pause in thanksgiving for people who listened to the call to make sense of life and ministry in my formative years. I grew up around some of the best of the best of these people as a student in Ft. Wayne, IN. It all started with David Jeremiah, who led my family into a passionate depth of faith and who baptized me with a prayer to influence others. From that point on it was a group effort from guys like Rick Hawks and Steve Longbrake and the people of Blackhawk Baptist. In high school, men like Tim Atkins, Mick Baker, Terry Linhart, the whole Youth for Christ team in NE Indiana formed me with an abundant desire for Jesus and others. In my early adult years I was privileged to work alongside some of these individuals and then be impacted by others like Gary Newton, Bill Heth (both at Taylor), Joe Whitchurch (with IVCF at Purdue) and especially our dearly missed friend, Galen Dolby.
I'm not sure that these individuals have received the respect due to them for all they've done for young people over the years. Too often, the focus on youth or campus ministry is looked down upon even within our own churches. How many times have I been told, "Oh someday you'll make a great pastor." When I communicate that I've been "pastoring" for twenty years now in the youth and young adult world, many people just smile, unable to comprehend what I'm talking about. In some people's eyes, I will not have truly "grown up" until I am a Lead Pastor. Not even my stint as an Interim Senior Pastor at a great church (Arrowsmith) seems to qualify in the minds of some people. If I do take on that title someday, those same people might be shocked with how much my "lead" pastoring reflects the practice and presence of my "youth" pastoring. Perhaps I might just empathize with 1 Timothy 4:12 until I'm as wrinkled as a tortoise.
Those who are called by God to inspire youth and young adults are sometimes labeled as "youth workers" or "young adult workers." But aren't they so much more than that? I recently heard the phrase "reflective practitioners" as a better description. I like how Kenda Creasy Dean considers them "practical theologians." She says these blessed individuals are "called to 'translate' doctrine for the concrete task of forming young people in the name of Christ to become envoys of God. My guiding conviction is simply this: If the church is going to make sense to adolescents, then our ministry must be predicated on passion – the Passion of Christ, the passion of youth, and the passionate faith that is made possible when these two things come together."
– Quote from Dean, Kenda Creasy, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 22.