Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tony Campolo Stories, Part 1

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I have mentioned the name Tony Campolo several times already over the course of this blog, and it is a name you will hear several more times.  Tony is a preacher, speaker, professor of sociology and story teller supreme, and I came to know him through my participation in the National Youth Workers Convention.  His stories are legendary, and often a bit hard to believe.  In more recent years his adult son Bart was asked if his dad's stories were true, and Bart famously responded "Yes, they are true- it's just that dad remembers BIG!"  The story you are about to hear, however, I witnessed in person.  And it is still hard to believe...

After hearing Tony in Dallas in 1982 I began to push to have him as a speaker for our Young Friends Yearly Meeting sessions.  This surprised a number of people,as Tony was well known as a strongly evangelical speaker and this went against type for me at the time.  Having heard him in person, however, I knew he spoke of Jesus in real terms and challenged you to follow Him in real ways, not simply by responding to an altar call.  He once described altar calls by saying "people walk down the aisle to Just As I Am; they kneel just as they are; and they go back to their pew just as they were!"  They booked him for August, 1984, by which time I was no longer working at QLC or at New Garden, but I attended a few sessions just to hear Tony speak.  One particular night a crowd of youth and adults flooded Sternberger Auditorum on the campus of Guilford College to hear him.  What he said that night he had said before, in other places.  But for anyone who was there, it was unforgettable!

He spoke of God's love and grace, and he spoke of how only Jesus can bridge the gap between our sins and God's love.  He spoke of our responsibilities to feed the hungry, take care of the homeless and to be peacemakers.  He spoke of how he felt the church was too busy "majoring in the minors" and not busy enough doing the work of Jesus in our world.  And then he drove it all home!  As the crowd gave him "amens" and "yes, brothers" he stopped, and then started again with the following words:  "But we don't really care about our brothers and sisters around the world, do we? Over 3000 (number is not exact) children starved to death in the world last night, and you people don't give a sh*t!"  He paused again, and the air simply left the room as people gasped upon hearing such a word in such a place.  And then he nailed us all.  "And what's worse is that you are more upset that I just said sh*t than you are that 3000 children starved to death last night..."  Half the audience roared their approval as the other half sat in stunned silence.  It was a moment that helped define my faith and the direction of my ministry in the years to come.  I was determined not to "major in the minors."  Pointing students to Jesus was really all that mattered; language and politics and everything else simply were not important.  What many people don't know is that the following day Tony did a youth ministry workshop which featured a section in which he taught us "if you can't hear the word sh*t without throwing a fit, you have no business working with teenagers!"  All in all it was an adventurous few days.

My life was about to take some major twists and turns, and I would not be doing any actual youth ministry until December, 1985.  God had lots for me to learn in the meantime, and my education had begun with Tony.  I was always so proud of the fact that I was the instigator who brought him to NCYM for those sessions; he has since been back a couple of times. And Tony was not nearly done with my life- he would later dance on a table while I sang- but you'll have to keep reading to get to that story! It was time for me to take my twin passions of Jesus and social justice and see where God would lead me- and the journey was about to get weird...

Because of Jesus,


  1. I remember meeting Tony at that National Student Leadership Colloquium that Jacob and I went to. Seemed like a big time celebrity after hearing you talk about him so much. Cool.

  2. Love Tony. He will be at YS again this year and is doing a revival weekend at our church and yes, I did mention the word revival and it is associated with the word Methodist, amazing isn't it.


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