Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, Pastor Andy Pryor has approached his calling with a deeper sense of intentionality. Todd Beamer, the 32-year-old Wheaton College graduate who died heroically on United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, had grown up in Andy's church. During his formative adolescent years (from sixth grade through high school), Todd was one of many youth Andy had the privilege of spiritually leading at First Christian Church of Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Andy says that the enviable qualities beneath Todd's "Let's roll" enthusiasm were the result of his godly parents, David and Peggy. As he recalls their involvement at First Christian, he notes their sacrificial commitment to Todd, their two daughters and the congregation. Their lifestyle of service and surrender rubbed off on their kids.
"Todd was blessed with a number of positive role models outside his family — men and women at school, Christian educators, youth pastors, ministers," Todd's father, David, says. "These people supported him with their lifestyle and their work. There were times when Todd wasn't excited about going to church, but Mom said, 'We're going to go!'"
Andy recognizes that, in the Lord's sovereign plan, he was privileged to influence Todd as his pastor. Andy doesn't know if he overtly contributed to decisions Todd made, but he is grateful to help build the character that caused Todd to make the ultimate sacrifice.
"It's impossible for pastors to know what impact they are having on kids in their youth group," Andy says, "but given the fact that the Lord brings us into their lives during their developing years, He does it for a purpose."
One way Andy took part in Todd's life was by celebrating his athletic interests. "I can't remember Todd without remembering his sporting activities. They were an indistinguishable part of his life," Andy recalls. "As a result, I made a conscious effort to attend as many of Todd's games as possible. In fact, one of the last times I saw him was at a baseball game his senior year in college. It didn't seem like much at the time, but looking back I'm so grateful I had the foresight to encourage Todd in this way."
Since Todd's death, Andy has taken a fresh look at the key role he plays in the youth of his present congregation at Northglenn Christian Church near Denver. He tries to identify ways he can show an interest in their activities. The kind of extracurricular commitment he showed by attending Todd's sporting events matters a great deal to youth as well as adults. Realistically, though, a pastor can only do so much himself. So since Sept. 11, Andy found three areas in which he can be more sensitive and involved with the young people in his church.
First, he views his preaching on Sunday mornings as the most influential factor.
"If I hope to have any direct influence on the young people, it will be through my preaching," Andy says. "Those who are there week after week will hear me a whole lot over the course of their growing-up years." When he prepares his messages, Andy thinks about how teens will hear and interpret what he's saying.
"I don't intentionally try to speak their language," he explains. "That can result in superficiality. But I do intentionally try not to turn them off."
Andy knows that teenagers aren't going to follow a lot of what he preaches from the pulpit. But that doesn't minimize the importance of preaching to influence them, because he knows that what parents pick up from Sunday's sermons will spill into the lives of their kids.
Second, Andy has revised his approach to prayer. Although he prioritized the place of prayer for his congregation, it was not as focused as it should have been.
"As I think of my prayer list and the people I prayed for, there were never any names of young people unless one of them had a particular need," Andy admits. "I need to be praying over the kids all the time. After all, the Lord is preparing them right now for what tomorrow will bring."
Finally, Andy sees the style of Sunday services as a factor in either positively or negatively influencing the next generation.
"I don't believe we should offend the older generation in order to be relevant," Andy says. "But if anyone has to 'give in' when it comes to method and style of worship, it should be the older, more mature believers. That's what Romans 14 and 15 illustrate for us."
For every minister there are factors of influence that he can seize or ignore. Each Sunday when Andy stands before his congregation, he knows that there could very well be another Todd Beamer seated with the youth who will make a difference in their world.
"You never know who you might be influencing for the kingdom of God. It could be somebody God could use to shape the course of history."
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.