I officially ended my 11 years as the youth pastor at Grace Community this past Wednesday. I'm excited about my new role at the church which will revolve around "care, connections, and discipleship." But, while I'm very excited about that new role and challenge, I'm also really going to miss my teenagers in axis. I was the church's first full-time youth pastor. There were incredible volunteers before me who poured their lives in to teenagers, but I was the first person to come on staff in the role. I loved being able to build a youth ministry basically from the ground up and I have loved pouring in to the lives of teenagers over these past 11 years and seeing God do some amazing things. But, I believe "greater things are yet to come."
I was able to share one last time with our kids and I basically shared that my goal in ministry was the same in 2002 as it was in 2013 ... I have always wanted kids to see a clear picture of who Jesus really is. Psalm 34:8 says "Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him." I believe that once we really get a taste of God ... who He is, what He wants to accomplish through us ... once we get a taste of Him, we'll want more of Him. My desire has always been to give kids a clear picture of who Jesus is so that they would walk away from any encounter with me or our youth ministry wanting to know Jesus more.
At the end of our time I was able to introduce our new youth pastor to our kids. Dan Cosentino has been in youth ministry for several years. He has a proven love for teenagers and has done much to pour in to their lives and equip them to reach their friends. The pic below is me introducing our kids to Dan. Just as I would not entrust my own to just anyone, I would not entrust the teenagers in my youth ministry to just anyone. I trust Dan with them. I know he will serve and lead them well and I can't wait to see what God does through him.
To close out our night, Dan talked a little bit about his vision for axis and then he said that, as a youth ministry, we want to "commission Rich" for the new role. So, he invited all the kids to come forward and pray over me. It's a moment I will never forget. Before I knew it, I was completely surrounded by teenagers. I started out standing and then as hand after hand after hand began to press down on me, I found myself beginning to lean over. Soon, I was completely hunched over by the weight of teenagers placing their hands on me in prayer. I'm somewhere in the middle of those two pictures below. At first there was some laughter and talking. But, as the prayer began, the room got quiet and I honestly felt "smothered" in prayer. It was one of the most special moments I remember in ministry. Having these teenagers who I've been praying regularly for over the past 11 years pray over me was incredibly humbling and powerful. I will never forget that moment.
I got home later that night and was reflecting on that time with my wife. I used the term "smothered in prayer" with her and remember saying to her that it gave me a whole new view of prayer. I hope to "smother" people with my prayers, to believe in the power of prayer so much that I don't just cover my wife, my kids, our team at Grace, my small group, the people who come to our church, my friends, whoever it may be ... that I don't just cover them in prayer ... I smother them in it.
It was an absolutely amazing night for me personally, and I believe a powerful way for our youth ministry to launch in to the fall under Dan's leadership. I look forward to smothering axis in prayer.