Friday, January 21, 2011

The Radical Sabbatical

Teresa on one of our New York trips.
Sometime around 1997 I was looking for ways to increase spiritual growth in the students I worked with at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee, FL.  We had all of the normal things in place- youth group, bible studies, small groups/Sunday School- but I was looking for an idea that would help jump start some of the high school students who wanted to go deeper on their faith journey.  I remembered John Westerhoff had once written that "one overnight retreat is worth 52 weeks of Sunday School."  I remembered that Jesus seemed to have pretty good success working with a group of 12 disciples.  And thus the concept of The Radical Sabbatical was born.  I would accept no more than 12 interested students for a weekend of study and spiritual disciplines.  We would sleep on the floor of the youth room.  It would be intense.  I only wanted those who were serious about pursuing Jesus.  And the group that gathered was just that. It was an awesome, Spirit-filled weekend.

I broke our time together into segments, during which we studied and participated in worship, prayer, bible study, fasting and meditation (both silent and guided).  For myself (and everyone else I heard from) the guided meditation section was the one that was truly memorable.  I led the students through a scenario in which they met Jesus by a lakeside, and He comes over to see each person individually.  I remember that I had the concept in mind as we started and a few notes written down, but that for the most part I was winging it.  In the midst of this improv, it seemed that the Holy Spirit just took over.  This was no longer only a story I was telling- Jesus was there!

After asking about memories of Radical Sabbaticals last Saturday, I received an e-mail from Teresa Reep Tysinger ( a Hall of Fame inductee), who was one of the high school students present that day.  She shared this with me, and told me I could share it with you. 
"...this experience is one of the few moments -- maybe THE defining moment in my personal walk with Christ.  For a teenage girl who often felt awkward, too self-conscious and lacking in many ways, it was such a RADICAL concept for me that Jesus would seek ME out of a crowd of people....amazing that Jesus would be happy to see ME....that I was the person Jesus was looking for.  Awkward, self-conscious, not good enough ME.  It was THE moment I realized this  Jesus guy was sent for ME...died for ME...and would have done it all the same if I was the only one here needing salvation from my sins.  ME."

Teresa went on to say that she also experienced the touch of the Holy Spirit that afternoon, and that she considers that to be the time when she really gave her life to Christ.  All of us who were there knew we had experienced something special.  I continued to lead Radical Sabbaticals for ten years after that weekend, and we had some more special times.  But nothing ever matched that first event and those few moments we all spent standing by a lake with Jesus.  Some things just can't be duplicated.  Like sequels to great movies, the original is usually better.  Except for Scooby Doo...

Those of us in student ministry spend a lot of time, effort and prayer hoping that we are making a difference in the lives of the young people we serve.  I have always said that if in my 28 years of ministry I had done anything that brought even one person into the presence of Jesus that I would be happy and honored.  So thank you, Teresa, for sharing your story, and for the work you still do for the Kingdom.  You didn't know it when you wrote it, but your story completes mine.  They say that one of the problems with being in youth ministry is that you don't really know if you made any difference in the lives of the students you work with for at least 10 years after they graduate.  And now I know.  "To God be the glory, great things He has done..."

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous1/21/2011

    As a fellow youth pastor, I can only tell you how moving I found this post. Brought out a few tears. God bless you and Teresa for sharing this story. -Mark Delaney

  2. Anonymous1/21/2011

    It is a rare thing indeed for a youth pastor to be able to see such fruit so many years later. Thank you for sharing this incredibly uplifting story. And I am stealing the ideas shared here immediately! God bless! -Kerry Lanier

  3. Thanks for the love, fellow youth pastors. I had to use a tissue or two myself while writing this one- thanks, Teresa!

  4. Teresa was always an inspiration to the younger youth of the group. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend!

  5. Meagan- She was often inspiration to us older youth as well! Teresa, We love you!

  6. Anonymous1/21/2011

    Everyone in ministry wonders about the long-tern worth of what they do. It is so gratifying to get such confirmation after so many years. I would be willing to bet there are many more examples out there as well, Carl. Thak you for your faithfulness over all of the years. -Leonard S.

  7. I just returned from being away a few days, so just now read this post. Carl, thank YOU so much and glad you can know the impact your ministry has had...on me and so many others, no doubt. -- Teresa

  8. You are very welcome, Teresa. Hope you are well. I mean you and Cyndi are just a few days away from a HUGE birthday, right? Still headed to NYC?


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