Friday, September 18, 2009

Influences- J. David Stone

Early in 1979 I was making one of my regular visits to the NC Yearly Meeting offices next door to New Garden when Jan Osborne asked me if I would be interested in attending a workshop in Charlotte. A group from NCYM was going to be part of something called The Creative Models of Youth Ministry Workshop, led by a guy named J. David Stone. I had never heard of either, but that was not surprising. At this point in my life I was leading a youth group (and making $50 a month) but had no idea what youth ministry was all about. I did what my youth leaders had done and worked in some things I had learned at Quaker Lake, but for the most part, I knew nothing. On top of that, I had recently been dealing with some strong feelings that God had something for me to do with my life- I just had no idea what. So when Jan asked if I wanted to go (and said it was free!), I was in.

To say that those few days in Charlotte changed my life is a massive understatement. I don't remember who was with us; I don't remember who the other leaders were; but I will never forget David Stone. Dave Stone turned out to be a youth pastor and teacher of youth ministry at Centenary College in Louisiana. He and his team were a whirlwind of games, programs and theories about youth ministry. I learned so much. Many of the things I learned were things that stayed with me my entire career in ministry. I learned how to train other to help me using the 4 Phases of Ease. I learned how to get students to open up to me through Re-Evaluation Counseling. I learned how important it was to meet students of their turf instead of always waiting for them to come to church. I learned games and songs. Anyone who ever had to last through the marathon that is Children Go Where I Send Thee can blame David Stone! And I learned that what I was doing was a ministry, not a glorified baby-sitting job, and that I was helping point students to Jesus. At least that was the task before me.

On the final evening I got a few moments to talk with David alone, and I shared with him that I was seeing my work with students in a whole new light, and that I was still praying for some clarity on what God was calling me to do with my life. He looked me in the eyes and said "I think God is calling you to ministry." Now when he said "ministry" I immediately thought "pastor" and started to panic. I really had not felt that calling at all, and I told him so. You have to understand that in 1979 very few people had chosen youth ministry as a career path. It was a steppingstone to being a "real" pastor, something you did until you were deemed ready to serve God in some more dignified fashion. So when David Stone put his hand on my shoulder and said "I think maybe God wants you to see youth ministry as a lifetime calling" it shook my world. I sat down, closed my eyes, and almost immediately knew he was right. I was scared, and I didn't really understand what it meant...but it felt so right in my soul. From that night forward,through all of the trials and tribulations to come, I knew I was where God wanted me to be, and I knew that the only way I could survive was to do this with Jesus.

I got back to New Garden and immediately started freaking people out. I wanted an office where we could meet with kids during the week. We started new programs and became much more focused on connecting kids to Christ. And over the next few years David Stone was always someone I could turn to when I had questions and doubts. And much later, in 1994, he helped me make the move to a Methodist church. We were only face-to-face on 3 occasions in my life, and I left him with so much still to learn. He understood about a lifetime of learning- his textbook was called The Complete Book of Youth Ministry- Vol. 1! But J. David Stone was the person God used to teach me that I was in this position of ministry so Jesus could use me. And for that I am forever grateful!

So when you look at the big picture, God used Jan Osborne to help set me on fire! I'd laugh- but it all happened to me!

Because of Jesus,

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