Sunday, March 20, 2011

Relationships Are Job #1

You can build relationships in the strangest places...
This past week my Twitter friend Danny Ferguson (@proyouthworker) asked myself and a bunch of other youth pastor types to define the purpose of student ministry in 140 characters.  My answer, of course, was building relationships- student to student, adult to student, and everyone to Jesus.  I see people argue all the time that our youth ministries have too much fluff and don't have enough depth- and there is no doubt that is sometimes true.  But the older I get- and the further removed from being a youth pastor I am- the more I believe that after everything else has passed, relationships are what remain- but only if you seek to intentionally build them.  Events and programs and studies are easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Sometimes they become the things with fluff and no depth, and that is a tragedy.  I have been out of student ministry for over 4 years now, but here's a recap of what the relationships built over the years mean to me and some of my former students- just from the past couple of weeks...
  • Earlier this week I got a phone call from Stephanie Greife, a young woman who was a part of the Wesley Memorial UMC group (2001-2005).  She recently moved back to Tampa and was calling to get together and talk, which we hope to do very soon.  She called because she knows that the relationship we built during our years together is not fake or built on sinking sand.  It can withstand hardships. It's real.  I love that.
  • Marilyn and I ate lunch yesterday with Todd Willis, a regular reader of this blog.  Todd was part of the FUMC-K family (1994-2000) and we had not seen him since he and Adam Spafford visited us in Chicago in 2001.  We talked family, religion, politics, old friends and the future.  Todd knows my story and loves me anyway.  Being together after 10 years was no different than seeing him every week.  That's the kind of relationships we ought to be building in youth ministries.
  • Upon my return from lunch I had a tweet from Connor Lewis (FUMC-K) saying that his family would be in Tampa in 2 weeks and wanting to get together.  We haven't seen Connor since his wedding several years ago.  And yet seeing him in 2 weeks will take precedence over anything else on our calendar, because he is that important to us.  Real relationships have real meaning.
  • Lisa Kraus Spires is pregnant, making her one of about 6 former FUMC-K students in that situation.  She is 12 weeks in; I had the honor of praying for her for several weeks while she told no one else in case something went wrong.  All because of the relationship we built 15 years ago when I was her youth pastor.  In a few weeks, Lisa, Caitlin Esry, Bethany Esry, Jerry & Melissa Hanbery and hopefully a few others ( anyone else who will be in Tampa April 9th!) are going to have lunch together over a decade after we went our separate ways.   The relationships are stronger than the years.
  • Ann Saunders Hale and Jamie Robinson from my group at Springfield Friends Meeting (1986-1994) always make me smile on Twitter.  I haven't seen either of them in many years, yet as soon as we found each other through this blog and on Twitter it was as if no time had passed at all.  And I continue to be a prayer partner for another old Springfield youth, Ashley Goad Broadhurst, as she helps build water supply systems in Haiti.  If the relationship was strong, old quickly becomes new again.
I could go on and on.  I am so blessed to have so many of these amazing people still in my life.  I often refer to myself as a former youth pastor, but the fact is that's a lie.  The "life together" we built together in the past means that I will ALWAYS be their youth pastor and their friend.  And they know that too.  So if I had it all do do over again I would change a few things, but the one thing I would never change is this- building relationships would still be job #1.  I have said it before and will do so again- "The miles may separate as life rolls along, but the bond between friends will remain ever strong."  Especially when Jesus is the glue..

Because of Jesus,


  1. This is so true! I know that for me, my time at TNT really helped get me through some tough times and really helped me to develop a stronger relationship with Christ. I know that finding you, Carl, and Marilyn (on FB) was like finding long, lost friends that I had always wondered about. I am so glad to have you back in my life, even if it's through the interwebs.

    PS My dad says to say hello to you!

  2. Thanks Ann, and be sure to return the hello to your dad. I love reading of your adventures on Twitter! :)

  3. Anonymous3/20/2011

    love you carl, hope you and the fam had a great weekend, talk to you real soon. <3

  4. Hi. Really enjoying your blog. I think you have a wonderful perspective on the meaning of friendship, and relationships in general.
    Your thoughts on friends you haven't seen in a while made me think you might be interested in a contest we're running, where we foot the bill to reunite pals that haven't seen each other in a while. Take a look at the link below and consider submitting a story. And who knows ... you just might win ....


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