A Prelude: My Office

If you read my entry on Friday, you are aware that on May 25, I’ll finish 19 years in full-time student ministry. I thought I’d challenge myself to write 19 essays in the days leading up to that mini-milestone, each one highlighting the things I’ve learned over that time period. And, as I was looking around my office on Friday, it dawned on me that those four walls are loaded with the very best things about student ministries: Building life-long relationships with students, based in the unity only Christ can cause. I mean, why else would people half my age welcome me into their world so readily?

Here’s what I mean: Take a look at the west wall.

In the upper right corner you’ll see a charicature of me done in college. It’s me in a clergy’s robe, walking on water, with a book in my hand that reads “How To Turn Water Into Wine.” See, in our fraternity, you’d leave the room and the artist would interview the other guys and then draw the cartoon. I always took this as a compliment…and Hollywood’s mom paid to have ours framed. Next to it is the Auburn Creed. You can Google that, but it quotes Malachi 6:8 (tattooed on my left arm) giving tribute to my universities Methodist roots. There are commemorative hockey pucks from the Dallas Stars Stanley Cup Finals Game #2 (along with framed ticket stub) and my hometown minor league hockey team (the Birmingham Bulls) against the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Yes, THAT team. And Coca-Cola bottles commemorating Auburn’s 1983 SEC (and should’ve been national champs) Championship team.

But what’s really important are three things: Notice the soccer scarf in the middle? Anytime I go on a mission trip with teens, I pick up a soccer scarf (standard attire in Europe) from that place…and I encourage my students who go on trips with other organizations to do the same. It’s a little reminder to me and my students to GET OUT THERE. It’s a big old world out there and much of it has misconceptions about the God of the Universe. It’s important in the growth of Christians to broaden their horizons and I’m glad to get our teens thinking globally at such an early age. I have them from Holland, Greece, the Czech Republic, Spain and other locales.

The second thing is the putter. It was a gift from some of my students (Mike Alpert, Jeff McWilliams, Logan McWhorter and others) they gave me upon their graduation as a way of saying thanks for leading their Bible study their senior year. It’s an inside joke I don’t dare try to explain.

The third is a board from last year’s mission trip to Juarez. If you recall, I wasn’t able to finish the trip as my mother’s health was declining rapidly and that demanded that I cut the trip short to get to her home. The kids & leaders kept a part of the building and all signed it, which means a great deal that they were thinking of me during that time, and went to the trouble to make sure it got back home and into my hands.

Next, let’s take a look at the south wall:

You’ll see a mixture of my theology books, commentaries and my own notebooks for each book of the Bible. I once heard a story about a youth minister in his office studying and an elder asked his senior pastor what he was doing. In response to the answer “studying,” the elder said, “We’re not paying him to study! Why isn’t he running the youth program!” The moral of the story was that a student pastor should be as diligent in preparation as pulpit pastors, if not moreso…and I’m glad to work for a church that understands that no one wants to listen to a pastor who has stopped studying, no matter what their ages.

On the left you’ll see a series of gifts that students have given to me over the years, everything from stuffed animals to a gorilla wearing an Auburn t-shirt and plays “Rock & Roll, Part 2” when you squeeze his hands (they found it at a garage sale) to a PVC “gun” that shoots marshmallows to a Russian laundry soap called what translates to “Barf” (mission trip group) to our graduation from M&M Mars Candy College (we called the hotline in a small group to ask what “noughat” was and they sent us diplomas)…they all have a story about relationships and how that theology study allows us to develop and maintain depth over the long haul.

East wall:

My seminary degree and my ordination certificate. Sure, they give parents & adults confidence in my training, but to me they remind me that God can use anybody. I never thought I’d obtain either of those things. I mean, if it wasn’t ministry, it was either an English teacher/baseball coach or sportswriter. I don’t think I’d be as happy in either. On the left is my 10-year plaque, which reminds me of how important it is to have longevity in a place in order to have student ministry become effective. I’m amazed that I’ve been in ministry that long, much less at one place…and working at CBC has been the highlight of my ministry life and I can’t imagine a better place to live and “work.”

More south wall: The mission trip photos.

The photos I keep prominently displayed are because these are the trips where you get a ton of “mileage” with kids. The bus rides, the plane trips, the hotel rooms, doing the mission itself, the different locales (barrios and reservations and windmills and islands, etc.), all are part of the bond you develop that really does last an awful long time. I looked at one picture from Haiti the 2nd year I was at CBC, and I still am in contact with every kid in the picture at least once a month. Sure, it might be an e-mail or a blog comment or text message, but we stay in touch.

East wall:

Everybody asks about this weedwacker. It has a little plaque on it from my senior guys study one year (Grant, Brad, Steve, Grant, Trey, Jay & Scott) where our service project that year involved doing yard work for someone in our church who couldn’t do it themselves. They called themselves The Lawn Wranglers (stolen from Bottle Rocket, the movie) and even gave me a black & white photo of “The Crew” (also stolen from that movie). They all signed it, and that’s another part of the bond with students: You serve together and you’ll grow together.

Yeah, there are more little trinkets in the office (like the painting of Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs & Toomer’s Corner) and tons of more stories on the shelves (like the 8 oz. coke bottle I took from my grandmother’s home after we sold it, because we used to sit on her couch or porch and drink ’em and talk) and other odds & ends (like the sign that says “I’m Gorgeous Inside” that a kid got from a realtor and gave to me because I’d told her that she needed that sign in her room as a reminder of what Christ thinks of her)…

…but I think this little tour of my office is a pre-lude to the things I’ll be talking about over the next few weeks. So much of what I truly believe about ministry is contained in what these “little trinkets” represent that I can’t help but wonder how the next few years are going to add to that reality as I work more with “grown ups”…because I really believe the same principles apply.