To be a good Youth Pastor you’ve got to be a good speaker. Choose a good metaphor, hit it home with some key Bible verses and you’re a success. To be a great Youth Pastor, however, you have to take the metaphor a step further. It’s got to be more than something with which the youth can just relate. You’ve got to let your kids get their hands dirty with it to hit it home. And that’s where, occasionally, a metaphor gets taken too far.
We were going on retreat at the district camp we attended each year. It was the same place where I had performed my very first exorcism, which sort of made the place special to me. I was excited. Not only were Scott and I going to get to spend loads of time making out on the bus, but our sister church from the neighboring town was going to be there, as well. There would be singing, laughing, special talks, games, and best of all…swimming. It was going to be a blast.
Over the course of the weekend, pranks dotted the camp’s horizon for as far as the eye could see. Shoes were tied together and thrown in trees. Ketchup was accidentally sat upon. Sugar was replaced by salt. Outfits were fake-vomited upon. But all of that would fade into the background when swim night rolled around.
We were in the locker room attached to the pool after having just changed into our modest suits. Wrapping my beach towel around my hips and hugging my arms tightly around my chest, I followed my friend Amy out into the pool area with Christine and her best Youth Group buddy and fellow quizzer, Tracy. Like Christine, Tracy had her hair tightly permed and back in a ponytail. The two of them were wearing matching pink and yellow one pieces. Amy had not exactly followed Pastor Mark’s instructions regarding appropriate swim attire to the spirit of the law, and I could not help but notice Christine and Tracy exchanging glances. For once, I agreed with them. While it was true that Amy had chosen a one piece—as had been strongly suggested—she had taken great liberties with the cut of it. Somehow I do not think that a French cut, cleavage bearing suit with a giant hole cut out of the back was quite what Pastor Mark had in mind when he stood in front of us at the chalkboard the previous week. He had made a diagram of what was and was not acceptable, which he had left on display for the duration of the evening so that there would be no question. A couple of boys from the junior high had made their own alterations to the “What not to wear” diagram when no one was looking, which caused the whole issue to be brought up once again at the end of the night, so I know Amy had seen it.
“Cool suit,” I muttered when we were at the edge of the pool where we were expected to hang our towels. The pool was teaming with people. There was even a game of beach volleyball already in play.
She raised her eyebrows at me and popped the elastic on her butt.
I attempted to smile at her and hung my towel on a peg next to hers. We approached the edge of the pool cautiously. Just then, Pastor Mark’s wife, Donna, walked out from the locker room and Amy dove into the pool, her blond hair sailing like a flag as she went. At least for the time being, she had gotten away with dressing like the Whore of Babylon. I didn’t know why, but I had a hunch that it had something to do with Karyn. Karyn was a girl we knew from Youth Camp, and with whom Amy had developed somewhat of a rivalry over the years. At last count, they had stolen from each other at one point or another no less than seven boyfriends during camp hours. Karyn was currently in the lead.
I followed behind Amy and before I knew it, Scott and Matt swam up beside us. Somebody in our group had brought their own volleyball, so pretty soon we started up our own game on the opposite side of the pool.
As we played, I scanned the pool for Karyn, who Amy had been avoiding all weekend. Since I was hanging out with Amy, I had hardly had the chance to talk to Karyn yet. I spied her talking to some friends near the locker room door. She looked good. She had been pretty before. Now, with her new figure and hairstyle, she wasn’t just pretty—she was gorgeous. I decided not to point this out to Amy, who I was sure had noticed anyway. I wanted to go say hi, but Amy was calling me over to the other side of the pool.
It was soon after that when Pastor Mark stood up at one end of the pool with Boone, the Youth Pastor from the other Youth Group, and called us all over into a huddle. We paddled our way over and stood beneath them, awaiting our instructions.
“First of all, I want to thank you all for coming tonight,” said Boone. Like Mark, he wore a tank top over a pair of swim shorts and stood before us dripping wet. Unlike Mark, he spoke with a high, energetic voice and had a short, stocky body with a tuft of dark hair on top. More boxer than football player. He bent his head to lead us in a group prayer and when he was done, he clapped his hands loudly.
“It’s not often we get to round up together like this and I am proud of the testimony you are showing to the camp staff. Some of these folks don’t know the Lord and you may be the first people they ever come in contact with to show them that Christians aren’t stuffy old people who don’t know how to have fun.”
I stole a sideways glance at a camp staff person walking along the pool’s edge with a trash bag in her hands and wondered if she, too, had been impressed by how cool we were. This thought was immediately followed by a contemplation about how anyone could possibly work at a Christian camp without having come in contact with Christians having fun before.
“Now with that said,” Mark took his cue to take over, “it’s time to shake things up a little.” He held up a large bucket and gave it a jiggle. “I want to see a little friendly competition. In this bucket…are 99 goldfish.”
Oh no. Amy and I exchanged glances. Matt let out a wicked giggle from beside her.
“Now I’m gonna toss these little guys in that pool and it’s up to you to pull them out.”
Mark began handing out red Solo cups to everyone. A few of the boys jumped out of the pool to scramble for their goggles and I noticed that the two visitors we had brought had shown up in Speedos. Apparently, nobody had bothered to show them a sketch of Mark’s appropriate swim attire diagram. What were they? European? I was too nervous to even feel appalled.
“It’s our Youth Group against your Youth Group!” Shouted Mark like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. “May the best team win!” Taking the bucket full of goldfish, he tossed them high into the air so that they would scatter evenly throughout the pool.
As I watched, it was as if everything around me was transformed to slow motion—as in a highly pivotal scene in a B movie. For a timeless moment, the goldfish hung frozen in the air—an exploding iridescent orange disco ball, with droplets of water catching the fluorescent light like glass before suddenly speeding up again and landing on the surface of the pool with a tinkling crash. …