Fair warning: This isn’t properly a parenting story, it’s a youth pastor story, but laugh with me to the end and I’ll draw some lessons out for you!
I became a youth pastor when I was 21 years old. I didn’t have any formal training, except that I was currently in education to become a middle school teacher. It was shortly after Tara and I were married, that my teaching plan was hijacked and God set a new course for our lives in ministry. When He called, I knew it was Him. So I answered the call, and have scarcely, if ever, looked back.
What I lacked in any sort of any training, I made up for in confidence (some might say arrogance). Each day I faked my way through ministry with passion in spades. I had a simple formula for success; I would think to myself, “What would Pastor Cam do?” and I would do that. (Pastor Cam Rowland was my youth pastor growing up.)
One of the things that youth pastors do is something called a “youth retreat.” I put that parenthetically because no one actually knows what the standard for youth retreats is. Sometimes youth retreats pretend to be spiritual retreats, and that was the story I was gunning for.
So, I ordered the t-shirts, booked the bible camp and the buses to get us there. I promoted the retreat, collected the parental waiver forms and wrote my material.
My sessions were super creative and we were going to have a good time!
I don’t remember Friday night.
Actually I don’t remember much of Saturday night either, nor do I remember Sunday.
On Saturday morning I got up early to take a shower and get a jump on the day. I couldn’t sleep anyways, this was my first youth retreat! We all fit into the retreat centre at this particular camp so I just had to walk down the hall to find the washroom with the shower in it.
I was not prepared for what I saw.
I mean everywhere.
I have seen movies where toilets explode and RV’s send geyser’s of sewage into the air. This was those movies, except that this was clearly the work of a person and not an exploding toilet.
I didn’t know what to do. Showering was definitely off the table.
So I did the only thing I could think of, I cried a bit, and then I called Pastor Lorne. Pastor Lorne was my boss. But, like me, he didn’t have any formal ministry training, and he had started in the big leagues as an untrained teaching pastor so didn’t know what to make my discovery either. Together we mused whether there was a demon possessed kid on the trip.
We brought in a psychologist for his opinion too. I’m serious. One of the board members at the church was a therapist and Pastor Lorne gave him a call to get his take on my situation. He didn’t think we were dealing with satanism, but it was disturbing nonetheless.
Then I called the high school pastor. Steve suggested that we do a shake-down to find the culprit. The boys would go home unless someone confessed.
So I issued the decree, unless the boy(s), or less likely, the girl(s), responsible for the fecal decor confessed, we were calling the boys’ parents to pick them up at noon, at which time we would have a girls’ retreat.
I had each of the boys come speak to me privately where I asked two questions: “Did you do it?” and “Are you lying to me?”
No one had done it.
I even extended some mercy. I said that if we got a confession, I wouldn’t tell anyone who it was and we could just get on with the retreat. And then I set up shop in a room by myself waiting. I was prepared to wait until 11:50am, at which time I was starting the phone calls.
The retreat got real boring real quick. There was nothing to do except wait.
Gradually, one boy started to separate himself from the herd. As he wandered the halls he would pause and look down the long corridor into the room where I was waiting.
He did it. I thought to myself. I just knew it. I’m not sure if it was the Holy Spirit or the fact that there were rumors floating around already, but I waited for the next pass by and got his attention with a, “Psst.” He came into the room with his eyes on the floor.
I looked at him square in the face and said, “Dude, you look awful.”
The dam broke.
“I DID IT!” He wailed.
Everything in me wanted grab this kid and yell in his face, “WHAT ON EARTH!” But I didn’t. I stayed calm and thanked him for confessing. I asked him what happened, got a weak excuse for the mess, but then I told him two things. First I told him I was most concerned that when given the opportunity to confess, he had lied to me. Lying is a big deal. But then I said, I would hold my end of the bargain and wouldn’t tell anyone.
And I never have.
There have been attempts made to discover the identity of the poop vandal, but I’ve never denied or confirmed any of those suspects. I keep my word.
Now, there’s a punchline to this whole thing. An ironic, what-were-you-thinking, hilarious punch line. Because the theme of the retreat was “When Nature Calls.”
(I’ll wait until you’re done dying from laughing.)
Now, that was a great theme. The whole thing was about coming up with a strategy to deal with temptation when our old “nature” calls a la, Galatians 5:24.
I even had a great object lesson! I created an outhouse craft that when cut out, folded together and glued, made a cute little miniature latrine. For the session on Saturday night we wrote our sins on the little door of the miniature outhouse and then shoved the whole thing in a 3-foot plywood outhouse I had made with my dad. That was followed by a “burning of the outhouse ceremony.”
It was AMAZING! I had put all sorts of smoke bombs and sparklers in it so that it would burn more epically. And the finale was a metal cross which emerged after the wood and paper outhouses were rendered unto ash.
People do some pretty weird things. Sometimes, when we are faced with a nighttime emergency our brains shut off and we do things we never would have done in the daylight.
Can you think of any times like that in your own life?
Times when you lost your temper. Kicked a cat. Punched a wall. Swore. Or tore someone down? Have you ever made a colossal, stinking mess and then lied about it when confronted?
If you haven’t, you had repressed memories.
If you have, then consider how much grace you extend your kids today. I have no doubt whatsoever that my children will need expensive therapy when they are older. The ways I blow it as a dad are numerous and creative. But my amazing kidlets still hug me at night. Without fail.
And better yet, Jesus looks at me, takes me in a room privately and never tells anyone about it again.
Oh that I would have the kind of grace for others that I’ve experienced for myself.
Incidentally, if you are looking for a fun summer craft to do with your kids, I dug up that old outhouse pattern. You can print it off here. Cut it out, decorate it real nice, write some bad attitudes or sins on the inside of the door, and then burn that little sucker!
Send the pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to see them!
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Associate Pastor – Southland Church
Thom has worked with children and youth for 17 years. He and his wife, Tara, have 6 kids; 4 boys, and a daughter and a SON-IN-LAW(!). The kids are spread across 20 years too, so that gives him plenty of experimental material to write about! They have also welcomed 30 foster children into their home over the past number of years.