What I've Learned from Kids

At a wedding reception I attended recently, the groom — an old club kid — asked, “Joe, remember what you said to us at Camp Hammer back in high school?”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. He continued, “In our cabin time you were extremely blunt about how important it was to wait for sex until marriage. At the time we couldn’t believe how direct you were. But I want you to know that I did wait and that your words made a real difference. Thank you.” 
Planting the seed
I’ve been leading Young Life clubs for 38 years and stay in touch with 70 to 80 former club kids. Some of these “kids” are more than 50 years old! Throughout my time ministering to kids, I have learned that you and I never know when someone is being discipled. The truth is often told years later.
Genuine discipling takes place by simply having someone be with you. Indeed, when Jesus’ disciples were appointed in Mark’s Gospel, they were selected, among other things, to be with Him. So the process is different for each of us.
Reaping the harvest
With some, it is neat and clean from the very start. At a Young Life club in Sunnyvale, Calif., years ago, Campaigner kids would select two sophomores to attend camp at Malibu Club for free. They picked kids who had no involvement in Young Life and didn’t have a relationship with Christ. In the summer of 1971, the young man we selected backed out at the last minute, so the kids picked a guy named Mike to go instead.
Mike met the Lord that week at Malibu, and he and I became good pals. During his senior year, we met every Friday after school and went through the book of Romans. Mike was a wonderful guy, as well as an athlete and senior class president. I never had to correct him, cajole him or encourage him. He just took off with Christ. Three years ago, Mike and I were in Moscow, Russia, speaking to a group of Young Life leaders at a conference. Mike, now a pastor in California, told his story one night. With tears in his eyes, he presented me with a Russian fur hat, thanking me for my part in his life.
Growing in time
With others, it’s more difficult to see the impact of discipleship. Bill, now a very successful businessman, was a crazy, go-for-it kid from Lewis and Clark High in Spokane, Wash., in the  ’70s. He was a tackle on the football team and a heavyweight wrestler. We met often for breakfast, but as his senior year progressed, he withdrew from me because of sin in his life. I remember crying over Bill and some others at the end of that club year. I felt like a failure because I hadn’t seen much progress with kids.
Bill returned to Christ in a great way a few years later, and has since been involved in Young Life as a leader, parent, committee chair, club host, summer camp staff person and more. Almost every time we get together, he looks me in the eye and, with real emotion, thanks me for pointing him to Christ.
What had I done? Simply loved him and been “with” him. Jesus told the woman at the well that the water He gives becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” in us (John 4:14). The wonderful thing is that this unique water just rolls out of those who believe and onto those around them.
Sometimes the discipleship process means becoming a parent. Nick, from the Pacific Grove High Young Life club in California who is now a youth pastor, was on “home study” when he began coming to club in the ’80s. He grew up without a dad, and I stepped into that role. We’ve done an incredible amount of things together, and he is a son to me. He even introduces me as his dad. Our relationship is one of constant love, correction, confession and accountability.
Cultivating lives
Being incarnational is willing to be permanent in someone’s life. You never know which kids it will be, but some of them will be your close friends forever. Not a week goes by that I don’t have contact with six or seven kids, ranging from last year’s kids to some from the late ’60s. Discipleship is permanent and a tremendous privilege.
I’ve always loved following the instruction Paul gave to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men, who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Our job? Simply to be with Christ and then faithfully be with others.