I was a youth pastor for 15 years. It was and still is a passion of mine.
Young people can read right through the “fake” of so many church people.
They do not tolerate the games that most adults play in church.
They keep you on your toes—I always loved that!
Young people also trust you when you tell them something.
They expect you to keep your word—and they do not forgive when you don’t. So it’s very important that you are honest and real with them.
That’s what I always was—and I still have a core of those teenagers who were in my youth groups who still communicate with me today, because… I was honest and real with them then.
I’ve even had some of them say “I wish I had for my teenagers what you gave us Brother “A”. No one does that anymore—wish you could be their youth pastor!”
That both humbles me and saddens me.
Youth groups today are nothing more than social settings for kids to hang out with other kids while their parents are in adult church.
They don’t attempt to build relationships that foster trust and support.
They don’t attempt to teach about the Word of God and how it helps them.
They don’t attempt to provide outings where the teenager learns life lessons.
They don’t attempt to exemplify the characteristics of Christ for a teenager.
In our youth group meetings, we had the following structure:
Play Time – We played a lot of volleyball outside.
Food4Thought Time- We always had an object lesson using the Word of God.
PrayerTime – We taught them the importance of “talking To God”.
Altar Time – We always ended with opportunity to come forward for prayer.
The teenagers knew one thing…
Brother “A” believed what he preached and only told them what worked for him. If it worked in his life, he promised that it would work in their life!
And I meant it!
I never buy anything from any sales person IF they do NOT own it themselves. Why trust them if they don’t use the product themselves?
The same thing for the Word of God.
Don’t tell me Jesus Heals IF you’ve never been healed.
Don’t tell me Jesus loves you IF you’ve never felt His love.
Don’t tell me Jesus can fix your problem IF He’s never fixed yours!
In the South we say “The Proof is in the Pudding!”
The teenagers knew—I was a salesman who used the product and loved it!
We had “events” that I sponsored each year.
They were called “Youth Explosion” and “SOS(Start Of Summer) Blast!”
I invited other churches to bring their youth to experience the Explosion!
The events were always a great success!
10 to 15 churches would bring their youth to the Explosion or Blast!
I even got the local radio station WCIE Christian contemporary DJ’s to broadcast from our Explosion or Blast Event!
It was advertised locally in the newspapers and on the radio.
It was an event to come to if you were in a youth group within 50 miles.
Our teenagers loved hosting the event!
We always had matching T-Shirts with our group name.
One year we displayed “Word Warriors –Hebrews 4:12”
And another year it was “STAND-Servants Taking A New Direction!” Ephesians 6:13
I got them involved in all of the planning and execution of the event.
It taught them responsibility and leadership—I cultivated leaders!
The Youth Explosion always happened in August—before school started!
It was a weekend event:
Friday night was competition volleyball between youth groups.
Saturday night was JAM- teenage musical groups would headline a night of worship and praise! We showcased teens from all the different youth groups. We Called it "God's Talent Time!"
Sunday morning was Youth Sunday—our youth group took over the service.
It was always a BIG event producing a lot of initial decisions and re-dedications for serving the Lord.
Just what a good Youth Pastor prays for—right before school starts!
But this summer…
My voice was going out on me.
I talk on the phone for a living.
I also shout a lot at church—I’m a Pentecostal preacher, so…you know.
I put the “P” in Pentecostal!
Sundays are two services of shouting and praising and worshipping God.
On Mondays, my throat was always hoarse, but better by Tuesday.
It was still hoarse on Thursday and not back by Friday.
My wife convinced me to go see a doctor.
I didn’t want to go, but I needed my voice.
I had some important events coming up surrounding Youth Explosion.
So… she and I went to see a throat specialist.
He told me that he was going to put a special scope down my throat so he could see what was causing the hoarseness and the pain.
It was NOT a little, short, thin scope.
NOPE! It was a garden hose!
They had sedated my throat prior, but I can tell you, I felt that garden hose!
He was dictating into his voice recorder WHILE he was using the scope.
I heard him dictate “layers of mass are present on the nodules-possibly cancerous- will need to remove to verify!”
He pulled out the scope and sat down in front of my wife and me.
He said “Sir, what do you do for a living?”
I said “I work in a call center for IBM, fielding technical support calls!”
He said, “hmmm? What else do you do?”
I said, “Well, I am a youth pastor and a travelling evangelist. I’m a Pentecostal preacher – kind of like a cheerleader!”
He said “The kind that whoops and shouts?”
I sensed his condescension and judgment, but…
“Yes that Kind of Pentecostal Preacher—My team always wins every service!”
He took a deep breath and said…
“Well, your cheerleading days are over. I have found lesions, layers of mass, on your voice box that will need to come out. I have to prepare that, I may need to take out your voice box if they are attached and I am not able to remove them. This may mean…you will no longer be able to speak. I’m afraid your preaching days are over!”
I was devastated.
I said “but I have three big events in the next 6 weeks. I am travelling to Toronto for work, and I am scheduled to preach at a church in Toronto. Then I come back and we have our annual Youth Explosion with about 300 in attendance. Then I end that with me preaching at a friend’s church!”
He said “I’m afraid you can’t do any of that. In the next 6 weeks, I want you to not whisper, not shout, not scream, not yell, not even bark! Do you understand me? I need to see what effect no exhilaration on your voice will have before we operate. Can you do that?”
The nurse, who knew I was a preacher and had been to one of my services, just smiled and nodded back.
Doctor scheduled the follow up and left me deflated.
My wife looked at me and just shook her head.
The nurse spoke and said “Pastor, you do what God told you to do. He is the final say in all we do and how we live—until they take your voice, you speak for Him!”
She patted me on the shoulder and left the room.
I don’t know how we got out of that office and back home—I can’t remember it—I was just so taken aback by the doctor’s comments and assessment.
It was a Wednesday, we had church, I had youth group.
I have to admit, I went through the motions that night.
We came home, put the kids to bed, saying their night prayers.
I asked my kids to pray for their Papa.
They gathered around me and put their hands on my throat and said:
“Jesus—heal our Papa’s throat. Amen!”
It was so sweet and pure. They were doing just like they saw Sunday after Sunday.
I went into the living room, sat down…and started to cry.
You have to know…I’m a songwriter, and I write when inspired.
I have written a lot of songs at different times, for different reasons.
But tonight? This was personal.
These words poured out of me that night:
This time, just this time
Your healing hand, your soothing touch
I need it just for me
This time, just this time
I’m not used to asking for myself…
But this time, just this time
I’m asking for me!
And I cried and cried.
I was praying for myself to be healed.
My wife said “God is in control. We’ve just gotta trust Him!”
I have to tell you—that song ended up being the title cut on my daughter Ashley’s debut album when she was 11 years old and many people would tell us what that song meant to them and how it ministered to their situation.
But at that time… it was called "Papa's Prayer-This Time Just For Me!"
I decided to trust God.
And that’s what I did.
And I made a deal with God that night.
I would listen to the doctor for every aspect of my life during the next 6 weeks: no shouting in church, no yelling at the kids, no barking at work.
But…as for those 3 scheduled ministry events?
They were going on as scheduled.
I remembered what the nurse had said: "You speak for God!"
I was going out in a blaze of glory, not a flickering light.
I behaved during church, sitting on the pew, not able to shout “Well Glory!” or “Hallelujah!”
The church people would say “What’s wrong with Brother “A”?”
I explained that I was following doctor’s orders.
They said “You need to follow Dr. Jesus’ orders!”
I behaved at work—my customers liked the new non-barking techie.
I behaved at home—no yelling at the kids—they loved those 6 weeks.
We had a Night of Joy at the Saturday night PraiseFest/God's Talent Time!
We had a wonderful service as my preacher boys preached for the church.
LaDon Catrett preached a message I still remember.
He said “If you meet my Jesus, and your life does NOT change. You did NOT meet MY Jesus because everyone who meets Him is forever changed! If Jesus is NOT enough for what you need, you need to change your need—because He has to be enough!”
Stirring words from a 15 year old boy in love with Jesus!
Pastor Larry(yet another Larry) Lipka had taken me under his wing.
He allowed me to preach in his pulpit when I first started out as an evangelist.
And he brought me back at least once a quarter just to give him a break.
I owed him—he gave me my start.
I couldn’t let him down—and I didn’t!
I preached “What Time Is It?”
The answer is found in Romans 13:11-14
What Time Is It?
It’s High Time for Holiness!
And the service was great! Souls touched, lives changed, people restored.
And so…I had fulfilled all three of my obligations.
My throat was killing me—but I kept my word to the Lord.
The night before the doctor’s check up on Monday morning 8am, I went up for prayer on a Sunday Night.
The pastor laid hands on me and I was slain in the spirit.
You have to know—that’s only happened 4 or 5 times in my life.
I hit the concrete without anyone catching me.
And I didn’t feel a thing—that’s how you know it’s real!
I was out for 30 minutes.
All during that time while I was out—my throat was constricting.
The pain was still there—painful to swallow.
I heard the Lord speak to me while I was out, and he said “ Layer by layer, I am removing it!”
After about 30 minutes…
I got up—and the pain was still there.
We went home.
Woke up the next morning—pain still there.
Wife and I prayed “nevertheless”.
Not our will, but nevertheless YOUR will be done.
You have to know… over the 6 week waiting period:
The advice had been cruel.
Fellow ministers had called to say:
“God is taking away your voice to minister to the mutes.”
“God is punishing you because of your sharp tongue.”
“God is teaching you humility.”
And this was from other preachers!
No one said “God is in control—whatever His will is...that's all we want!”
Nope—no words of encouragement.
I just said “thank you!” and moved on.
We were on our own with this one—had to have the faith to accept whatever God decided was exactly what He meant for me to have!
At The Doctor's Appointment
When the nurse asked me if I had behaved during the last 6 weeks—I told her about the 3 events. She was a Christian and smiled and said “God knows you put Him first—He will reward that!”
When the doctor came in. he asked if I had been behaving—I said “well, I tried!”
He said “well let’s see how much of your voice box will need to come out. My nurse has the surgery scheduled for next week, and she also found some literature on learning sign language. They are making a lot of inroads in that community, and you may find comfort in knowing that they need ministers also!”
I know he was trying to be sympathetic, but…
He said “Alright then. I have administered the numbing agent, and I am going to place the scope down your throat and see how bad the lesions are and how much I will need to remove. Are you ready?”
He put that scope down my throat.
He then spoke directly into his mini-microphone and said “mysteriously, the layers of mass are removed!” and he shook his head.
I thought “What did he just say? Layers of mass are mysteriously removed? Didn’t God say last night while I was out “layer by layer, I’m removing it!”
Tears starting rolling down my face, my wife’s face, and I looked over and..
The nurse’s face!
The doctor said “I don’t what you did, but just keep doing it! I thought for sure I was going to remove your voice box those lesions were so overgrown on your box. You should be scheduling your surgery, but… they’re gone! I can’t explain it, but…just don’t stop doing whatever you are doing because…those lesions are gone!”
And I haven’t stopped—all these years later—I have kept doing what I was doing then!
—It disappeared with his words…and has never ever returned-