Monday, May 12, 2014

Strange Tales of Student Ministry

Last week I sat in a restaurant and eavesdropped on a conversation between two elderly ("older than me") men at the adjacent table. One was doing most of the talking, telling stories of both current events and days gone by. The other listened intently, but would occasionally interrupt with his own thoughts. And his thoughts seemed to be confined to two phrases- "You've got be kidding me" and "Really?" He clearly was having a hard time buying what his friend was selling...

I sometimes feel that way when I tell old stories of my days in youth ministry, because when dealing with teenagers truth is often stranger than fiction. And it keeps getting stranger. Today I want to share with you 7 moments that fit that category. The stories you are about to read are true. The names have been left out for obvious reasons. Editor's Note: The pictures seen here have nothing to do with the stories. They are just strange in their own way...

1)  In 1979 I was hired to work part-time at a very small rural church in NC. I was not quite 20 years old. The couple that had been leading the youth group were really wonderful people, and I knew their children from working at Quaker Lake Camp in the summer. I found out later that rumor had it that at least part of the reason they wanted me was because they thought I would make a good husband for their (sweet & beautiful!) 15 year old daughter. There was nothing sinister about it; they had gotten married at 16 and may have been thinking she would too. I escaped unharmed...

2)  Sometime in the autumn of 1984 I received a phone call from a terrified youth, saying that her ex-boyfriend (also a student I knew from QLC and various youth events) was drunk, violent and in her yard screaming for her to come out. She was home alone with her 2 younger sisters, and was mostly afraid that her parents would come home, find the boy there... and kill him! Even though I was no longer her youth pastor, I drove over and calmed him down, got his cousin to come pick him up, and defused the situation. But not before he took a few swings at me...  Youth ministry is not for wimps!

3)  In April of 1987 I took 6 high school students- 3 male, 3 female- to the mountains  of NC on a leadership retreat. Late one night I stopped by the guys room to see if they were okay, and was told to go away. I knew something odd was going on (and that our girls were in there too), but they asked me not to push it, so I let it go. For nearly 6 years I tried to discover what was going on in that room that night, but their code of silence could not be broken. Finally, after after lots of teasing and taunting, they revealed the big secret- they had just started playing strip poker when I came to the door! Nothing had happened- they were just embarrassed to tell me. I think shoes and socks were the only wagered items lost!

4)  Once one of my students called to tell me she was afraid she was pregnant. After a lot of talking I convinced her to tell her mom and we all went to the doctor; it turned out she was not. A few weeks later I discovered she had told her friends she had gone for an abortion. In her fragile teenage mind it was easier to tell her friends she had gotten an abortion than it was to tell them she had been wrong about being pregnant. Try as we might, we cannot walk in their shoes- so we just have to love them.

5)  In the late 1990s, while on a FUMC-Kissimmee ski trip, a teenage girl banged on my door late one night and said she needed to talk to me. I stepped outside and was informed that she had just started menstruating for the first time. This was not the first or last time I was ever part of such a conversation, but they never ceased being awkward. This one, however. was particularly strange. Her father was on the trip as a chaperon and a female pediatrician (one of our Youth Counselors) was in the room next door to her. When I mentioned this to her, she said she wasn't comfortable telling them. I was horrified and honored all at once. But we got her dad and he doc and got her some help. Another time we were on a bus coming back from NYC when a young woman began to wander the aisle asking the other females if anyone "had supplies she could BORROW." Her use of the word borrow completely cracked us up, and we eventually had to stop the bus and do some shopping for her. BTW- if you can't deal with those kinds of conversations you have no business being a youth pastor. It's part of the gig. For another hilarious tale of this sort, see A Strange Night In Atlanta.

6)  My family was gone on a youth group beach trip one summer and we asked one of our "left behind" youth if he would dog sit for us. He did. About a month later we got bills from our Internet provider and our cable company for over $300 worth of porn he had viewed at our house while we were away. My wife got the costs dropped because of the situation. He and I had a "Come to Jesus" meeting, but I didn't tell his parents or anyone else. I hope he passes that grace along at some point...

7)  In 2006 I was driving a van full of Trinity UMC- Waycross students back from a major youth revival in a neighboring town in south Georgia. It was very late and we were very hungry. I said we could stop and asked for suggestions as to what would be open at that hour. One of the girls suggested a taco place; the name I have long since forgotten. I said that sounded great and asked where it was. With a perfectly straight face she responded, "South Dakota." She was dead serious. And she was totally clueless as to why the rest of the van screamed at her. Ahhhh- teenagers!

It's all true- and I didn't even include the lost bikini tops, insane parent stories, middle school boys gone wild and all of the inappropriate questions I was asked over the years. As former students keep revealing secret histories of old trips to me in my advancing age, I keep expecting to hear one start with, "This one time, on a church trip..."  I suppose the sequel to this will have to be entitled Too Hot For This Blog!  Until then, just remember- youth ministry is always stranger than fiction!

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous5/12/2014

    Hilarious stuff! Can't wait for the sequel!!! - Pastor Greg Dalton

  2. Anonymous5/13/2014



    1. Why do I have a feeling you were there for #3, Anonymous? Good times for sure...


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