Kristi had always struggled with her own worth. “Ugly, hopeless, unloved, and unlovable” were the words she used to describe herself. She never felt like she measured up to “good enough,” and knew no love but conditional love. Her moments of happiness were crowded out by overwhelming misery. Nothing could fill her up to overflowing joy. She had tried it all.
Michael fell in with the wrong crowd. His absent father, coupled with a tough guy attitude, pushed him over the edge with most of his peers. His public persona was that he was too good for most people, didn’t need their affection, and certainly didn’t need “religion.” But on the inside he was hurting, desperate, and deeply curious to know if there was anything really to his Christian friend’s “Jesus obsession.”
Kristi and Michael are symbols of what one writer calls the “Hurt” generation: An entire emerging age segment of our American society who live a life of deep desperation masked by a pursuit of the perfect exterior. Kristi and Michael are the new norm for teenage students, and the kind of student I encountered weekly: Smiling when you meet them, crying when they open up beyond the superficial.
In a world with many opinions but few answers, this generation has little hope. They are constantly bombarded with messages of who they should be, but with no one able to tell them who they are. But Michael and Kristi, along with many more students whom I have come to know and love over the years share one thing that the world can’t offer: they found Jesus. They didn’t find religion, or a motivating story, or loud music, or even just a good group of friends and a hyper-active youth pastor. They may have come for a party or a crazy event, but by God’s grace they walked away with a Savior, a Friend, a Healer, a Reconciler and a Purpose-Giver. If there’s one thing to be thankful for during my years as a pastor to students in this church, it is that God has been faithful, fully engaged, and mighty to save every last soul who would receive his grace.
As I close out my time as a guitar-strumming, over-excitable, joke-telling, ultimate-frisbee-loving, blessed-beyond-what-I-deserve youth pastor at TCC, I stand with one thing to celebrate: Jesus. As I step down, I hope we all realize that the shadows of grace that we cast are only made possible by the great illuminator of life and hope. This has certainly been true in my ministry. While I have appreciated the encouragement I have received from so many of you as I re-orient my life to take care of my family, I still want to maintain this one mantra that has come to be my life mission: To make Jesus famous! It is God who begins good works, and he’s also the one who completes them. In this we can all rest; no matter who comes and goes, how we succeed or fall short, God never changes, never forsakes, never breaks a promise.
As we move forward, just as Moses passed the baton to Joshua and David to Solomon, please join with me in prayer for God’s leading as the church leadership seeks to fill my role with God’s next agent of grace. In the meantime, please uphold the interim youth ministry directors: Mike Simmerman (overseeing the high school ministry, whom you will meet shortly) and Everett Meadors (overseeing the middle school ministry) and our very talented and godly adult leaders who are on the front lines of soul transformation.
There are so many people who have poured into my life and taught me much of what I know today; to you I am forever indebted and deeply thankful. To those with whom I worked alongside over the years, you are deeply appreciated and will have a great reward in heaven for your labors. You helped keep the ship from sinking! To the staff who put up with my nonsense, whimsical ideas, and entirely unpredictable schedule, I owe a great deal of gratitude. To the students who have been the focus of my prayers, joys, tears, and with whom so many memories were created, I love you. I have no greater joy than to see you walking with God. And lastly, to my wife, who has set an example to me of true godliness and self-sacrifice, thank you for your support and love.
With Christ’s affection,
Nathan (and Anna) Wagner
P.S. Thanks to all who have been praying, I have been offered a job at ADP, and begin work on 1/16. (Again, blessed beyond what I deserve!)
P.S.S. I regret that I could not find a good picture with the awesome middle school group.