SEARCHING FOR HEROES
BY SCOTT GOSSENBERGER
More than ever, teenagers need heroes who will show them what it means to be a man or woman of God. They need heroes who find their joy in serving Christ and whose excitement for the Lord is infectious. Yet,
the trend of the American church has been to emphasize education as a means of leading individuals to a committed life in Christ. Even Pentecostal churches that traditionally placed an emphasis on experience have begun to emphasize the informational side of Christianity. Many contend you can teach someone into the faith. That may be true for a few, but the vast majority, especially the young, will come to know Christ through personal experience. That’s not to suggest pure doctrine isn’t important or the Bible isn’t the ultimate authority for our lives. Rather, discipleship must take on a more relational approach.
In his book, Of God and Men, A. W. Tozer wrote of the Church: The talk is that we need revival, that we need a new baptism of the Spirit–and God knows we must have both; but God will not revive mice. He will
not fill rabbits with the Holy Ghost…. She must repudiate the weaklings who dare not speak out, and she must seek in prayer and much humility the coming again of men of the stuff prophets and martyrs are
made of. God will hear the cries of His people as He heard the cries of Israel in Egypt. And He will send deliverance by sending deliverers. It is His way among men. Young people need mentors, heroes who will lead them on a spiritual journey filled with personal encounters with the Lord. Without them, many of our young people will be at risk of spiritual death.
We need those who will challenge us to live our lives for Christ; those who will share their lives so we can catch their intensity for Jesus.
Heroes have always been an important part of my life and ministry. I was raised in a strict, Pentecostal home. Movies were strictly taboo and television only partially accepted. My parents monitored the programs I watched to be sure I wasn’t exposed to violence and immorality. I wasn’t even allowed to watch “Batman,” which was all the rage. Once my parents caught me watching it and restricted me from television for a week. There was, however, one exception. John Wayne movies were not off limits. He became my hero and inspired me to want to be a hero, too.
Rather than take the bus, I rode my bike three miles to and from school during my freshman and sophomore years in high school. During those bike rides I would daydream that I was a hero of heroes,
fantasizing that I single-handedly saved Southern California from a Russian invasion. I even imagined myself rescuing a girls’ camp from would-be rapists.
I remember one heroic dream in particular: Our family attended Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, so that was the setting. While sitting in an evening service, absorbed in the pastor’s sermon, a group of communist terrorists, armed with machine guns, entered the building and encircled the congregation. The leader pushed our pastor off the platform and told us we were all going to die because we were Christians. I managed to slip through a door that led to the sound room. I was the only one able to escape the building because, after all, I was the hero of the dream. As with most fantasies everything worked out perfectly. It just so happened 1 had taken my motorcycle and .22 caliber rifle to church that night. I started my motorcycle and headed straight for the front of the church. Just before reaching the glass doors I pulled a wheelie and busted through them, and, in the process, knocked off two of the terrorists, firing at the others as I rode around the back aisle of the church. Bullets were flying everywhere and terrorists were dropping like flies, but, of course, I didn’t get shot. Only the leader was left. He took aim and shot at me as I rushed the platform to take him out. Wounded, I fought through his barrage of bullets and fired a shot that ended his life. This dream occurred about the same time I developed a crush on a girl named Sheila, whose feelings for me were not the same. So, lying on the platform with blood flowing out of me, the whole congregation rushed to the front and began to cry for me. Sheila pushed her way through the crowd, knelt over me, and cried uncontrollably. In a faint voice I asked her to come closer, then said these unforgettable words: “Sheila, you should have loved me while I was alive.”
Naturally, the church erected a monument in my honor while Sheila had to live with her loss.
The heroes who inspired my dreams were important because they challenged me to expect more out of myself. Today’s heroes generally fall into two categories: athletes and entertainers. Both should be
appreciated for their talents, but problems develop when individuals are admired for their talent alone. The recognition they receive may give them an opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of others; however, the talent should be secondary to the influence. In other words, they should be admired most for bringing about positive changes in others.
Our society places too high a value on talent. In school the ones who get the most attention from teachers and peers are the ones with recognizable talent. Colleges spend millions of dollars to recruit star athletes who will make them shine. On a local level, kids will pass around the sports page when it highlights young people from our youth group while those who minister in a hospital may go unnoticed.
Christian heroes can challenge teens to seek a higher level of commitment to Christ. According to Lawrence Crabb, people have two basic needs: to be loved for who they are, and to be significant to someone. When entertaining talents are elevated above character, those who lack such talents feel insignificant and insecure. Such feelings will drive most young people in one of two directions: either they will withdraw into themselves or they will find some activity, even if it is morally wrong, that will gain them recognition.
Significance that comes from achievement is usually short-lived and, for most, unattainable. Young people need heroes who are touchable, who model character that is attainable. Professional athletes and entertainers are often poor heroes because they’re untouchable, and their level of ability is unattainable for most young people. Touchable heroes who are everyday people challenge us to excel beyond mediocrity. Today’s teenagers have had their potential held captive by a society that has set a false priority of talents over character. We need to introduce our young people to heroes who, by their character and lifestyle, will challenge them to a greater commitment to Jesus. Young people need heroes who will live a godly life in front of them.
At the age of twenty I knew God had called me to youth ministry, but I was deeply insecure about my ability to perform as a youth pastor. I’d been a late bloomer in high school, beginning my freshman year at 4’11” and weighing ninety-five pounds. Football was definitely out, so I joined the wrestling team. I lost every match. I also joined the marching band and made fifth-string as a trumpet player. As a sophomore my counselor told me I wasn’t smart enough for college so I should prepare to get a job instead. My junior year the steer I was raising for my agriculture class died, and I got fired from my job. My senior year . . . well, I graduated.
Things started coming together when I completely committed my life to Christ, but I carried a lot of insecurities from past failures into my new life. About that time our youth group got a new youth pastor named Jerry Hanoum, who took a special interest in me. He often took me out for a soda or invited me into his office to talk. I admired Jerry and enjoyed our times together. I saw in him qualities I wanted to emulate. For his part, Jerry believed in me enough to give me meaningful responsibilities in the youth group and trusted me with ministry. It meant a lot to have someone, besides my parents, believe in me.
One night, Jerry invited me over to his house just to hang out. Naturally, I accepted. That night Jerry and his wife Yvonne laid hands on me and prayed for God to guide my life. I’ll never forget what Jerry said to me after he finished praying: “Scott, I believe God sends youth pastors one young person who will change their world if that youth pastor will pour his life into the one God sends. For me, you’re that person.” That one phrase–spoken sincerely by a man I respected–changed my life. He taught me that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV), and challenged me to live a life fully committed to Christ.
BETTER CAUGHT THAN TAUGHT
Young people need heroes like Jerry because Christianity is better caught than taught. The strength of Christianity is not so much in its information but in its ability to change lives. If asked, most teens will say they find the Bible boring. Their attitude toward God’s Word is the result of looking at it simply as a source of information. To them it’s a textbook. But if they approach it with the understanding it brings life to those who read it because God speaks directly to them through it, they will have a love for Scripture. They’ll best learn this truth by observing heroes who have a love for the Bible.
The same principle applies to Christianity. Most young people don’t feel that the “spiritual” parts of our faith, such as prayer, Bible study, and church attendance, are exciting. As a result, the majority of teens in our churches are immature Christians who only fill pew space. They need to learn these things give life as well, but, once again, this is best learned by emulating heroes of the faith.
Occasionally I conduct seminars for youth workers. I start by hanging signs throughout the room with names of famous athletes, entertainers, and religious figures. On one sign I write the name Jesus. I begin the seminar by asking the leaders to stand under the name of the person with whom they most identify. Rarely does anyone stand under the sign with the name Jesus. This illustrates that people don’t identify with Jesus; instead they identify with Him as He is incarnated in the life of a particular believer. It’s a mistake to train young people to be academic Christians. Jesus transformed the world because He poured His life into a small group of people. They were changed by His life and they, in turn, changed the world with the* lives.
If our young people are going to change the world rather than be changed by it, they need godly heroes. Parents who are concerned with the spiritual growth of their children need to find a hero who will invest in their child.
PROFILE OF A CHRISTIAN HERO
Heroes are everyday people who, by the power of God’s Spirit, do supernatural exploits. They can be found in any church. They don’t wear white hats and aren’t usually conspicuous, but you can find them if you know what to look for. They’re the ones who spend time at the altar: the ones who know how to pray. They support the church and the pastor with their words and their deeds. They come for the work days as well
as the potluck dinners, and they teach Sunday school or drive a bus. They’re faithful to God and to His kingdom.
Heroes invest in people. Five years ago I left Southern California to be the youth pastor of a church in Vacaville, California. There I met a man named Bob who would become one of my closest friends. When I first met him L wasn’t particularly impressed by his potential to minister to youth. He often came to the youth meetings in his work clothes, covered with paint, dirt, and sawdust. In my opinion, he wasn’t the best candidate for a hero, but I had a lot to learn.
Bob came to every youth group event and gave himself to the young people in his group. The kids nicknamed him “Daddy Bob.” Though he had five children of his own, he often invited kids from the youth group to his home. He would pray with them, answer their questions about the Bible, and let them just hang out with him. He loved them and they loved him, and he was able to significantly impact their lives. In only three years, our youth group grew from thirty to 450 kids, largely because of Bob.
Bob could have spent more time building his contracting business or enjoying recreational activities, but his priority was investing in people. Heroes of the faith understand the only things we can take with us to heaven are the people we’ve touched with the love of Jesus. If you need a hero for your children, find someone who invests their resources in people.
Heroes are servants. Serving isn’t limited to feeding the homeless or visiting convalescent homes. People serve in a variety of ways. I have a friend who felt prompted by the Lord to serve his church more diligently, so he got a scrub brush and cleaned every toilet in the church one Saturday. Dr. George Wood, whom I worked under, served his congregation by spending twelve to fifteen hours preparing for each
sermon. In the five years I was there, even while studying for my master’s degree, I learned something new and spiritually significant from each sermon.
Serving is the most basic of heroic qualities because no one is considered a hero for being selfish. It’s only when we reach out to others that we have an impact on the world around us.
Not long ago I watched on the evening news a group of people who spent several days and thousands of dollars to save some whales that were trapped in ice. A tremendous amount of energy and emotion went
into that rescue effort, and those involved were heralded as heroes. In turn, heroes of the faith are those who will serve others with the same kind of intensity that went into saving the whales so that they might
be delivered from the bondage of sin and born into eternal life. Those are the kind of individuals our children need to observe.
Mark Buntain, missionary to India, was a servant-hero. When I first heard him speak, I was moved more by the passion with which he spoke about his work among the people of Calcutta than I was his words.
He spent his life in one of the most impoverished cities in the world. He built a hospital for their sick bodies and shared the love of Jesus for their sick souls. It was apparent that he loved those people and
would serve them faithfully as long as he lived. I was deeply challenged the night I heard him speak.
When he called for those who would commit their lives to missionary service to go forward, I went. I didn’t respond because I felt called to foreign missions but because I wanted to be a man like Mark Buntain. Mark was a hero to those who knew him and to the entire nation of India. I’ve discovered that finding a hero is easy when you look for someone who serves.
Heroes are admirable in all areas of life. Heroes are people who possess admirable qualities, but not everyone with admirable qualities will invest in the lives of our young people. You may know someone who
has been faithfully serving in the Sunday school program at your church for fifteen years. That’s a wonderful example of faithfulness to service. But if that person neglects or abuses their spouse, it nullifies their positive influence potential. A few months ago someone donated a tennis bracelet to a retreat ministry of which 1 am the president. The bracelet was made from separately purchased gems. It had
green stones with diamonds in between and looked like a nice piece of jewelry. I was excited about selling the bracelet and putting the money toward our retreats. My excitement turned to disappointment when the
jeweler said the bracelet had little value because quality stones had been used with low grade stones. The same principle applies to people who influence our kids. While we all have flaws, heroes included, we must have consistency in our walk with God to be of any real value.
Some years ago I was the youth minister in a church where the sanctuary also served as a gymnasium. Every year the youth group sponsored a church basketball league, forming teams from several churches in our community. The idea was to have fun and fellowship, and most of the time that was the case. When you put competitors together, however, sometimes the fellowship is lost in the quest to win. Our pastor, an excellent athlete who had played baseball and basketball in college, had a natural talent for any sport he tried. He was also a charismatic speaker and completely dedicated to his congregation. He had a powerful prayer life that challenged me to be more faithful in that area of my spiritual walk. But his desire to win often brought out the aggressive part of his personality, and he would sometimes have to apologize for his behavior. Even so, that flaw didn’t negate his more admirable qualities. I still considered him a hero and a person I wanted to emulate.
Heroes are not perfect; they’re not flawless. They’re people who occasionally fail. But they admit their failures and commit them to the Lord for His help. Only Christ was perfect. Nevertheless, we have heroes, like the apostle Paul, who have not achieved perfection but who “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, NASB).
Heroes sacrifice all for the sake of the call. On May 21, 1843, a group of 875 men, women and children left Independence, Missouri to travel to Oregon. Some rode horses, others rode in wagons; at least half traveled the 2,200 miles on foot. They knew the journey would be difficult, but the promise of a rich new land was worth the effort. They knew they risked losing their personal belongings to raiding Indians and their loved ones to sickness. Yet they were willing to sacrifice all they had and endure incredible hardship in order to reach their promised land. They led the way for a half million others who would make the same trip over the next twenty-three years. Their successful journey populated the Northwest and nullified Great Britain’s claim to the territory. Those trailblazers are American heroes because they gave all to make their dreams come true.
Some Christians share that same spirit of adventure. They’re willing to make incredible sacrifices in order to accomplish their dreams. Like the settlers, they sacrifice the comfort of their old lives for the promise of a better one. They’re convinced nothing short of an intense relationship with Jesus will satisfy them. They take Matthew 10:37,38 literally:
Anyone who loves his father or mother more then me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not
worthy of me.
CONNECTING HEROES WITH OUR KIDS
The most obvious and accessible heroes for young people are their parents. I hope you’re challenged to be the model God has called you to be. Most young people admire their parents, though they usually don’t
say so. When I ask kids who their heroes are, they don’t usually name their parents, but when I ask who they most admire, they usually name one or both. The reasons for their admiration are varied, but most
agree on their parents’ dedication to them and to God.
As children reach the teenage years they often look to people other than parents for role models and heroes. It can be threatening when our children admire someone other than us, but when we understand
it’s a natural part of the growth process, we can help provide responsible substitutes. Don’t be afraid or jealous if your teenagers want to spend time with their youth pastor or a friend’s parents. Recognize that everyone will benefit when the values you wish to impart are reinforced by other adults. My son is four years old and still thinks I’m the greatest. But there will come a time when he’ll look to others as he tests his independence. As long as I ensure he has someone Christlike to influence him, I have nothing to worry about.
Young people need to be discipled by adults who are committed to Christ. Many churches have youth pastors on staff who disciple their young people. But churches that operate their youth outreach with
volunteers can also have a discipleship program. What’s important is that the youth ministry of your church makes discipleship a priority.
The most effective type of discipleship is one that is relational. Most programs stress curriculum and homework, feeling if you get them reading, writing, and praying enough, it will stick. But most young people do what it takes to get through the discipleship program, then when it’s over they don’t apply what they learned. A discipleship program that is relational is one where leaders share their life in Christ with the kids. Obviously, the strength of such a program depends on the strength of your youth leaders, so choose them carefully.
Young people commit themselves to Christ when they have an experience with Him. As a teenager I went to every youth camp. They were fun as well as providing an escape from the responsibilities of home and school. They were also a chance to find the girlfriend of my dreams. But those weren’t my only reasons for attending camp. At every camp I attended, God did something supernatural in my life and in the lives of my friends. I looked forward to camp because I knew I would experience God there. It was at camp that I committed my life to Christ, was baptized in water, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We often criticize the mountaintop experience, but they’re important. Such experiences affect young people for eternity. They become spiritual landmarks that help them make the right choices later in life. Camps and youth retreats are critical to the discipleship of our young people. They are investments worth every dime we spend.
If your church doesn’t have a youth program, or if there isn’t a viable discipleship ministry operating within the youth program, you may want to find someone in the congregation to get involved in your teen’s life. Include them in some of your family activities. Have them over for dinner or go to a restaurant after church. Let the entire family develop a relationship with the mentor so everyone is working toward the same goal.
Whether discipleship takes place within the youth ministry or informally by an adult, it must be intentional. It’s not enough to just be a friend. The relationship must be focused on leading young people
into a personal, powerful experience with Jesus.
Several years ago I received a letter from a girl in my youth group named Rainy. Her letter helped determine my priorities as a youth pastor. She wrote:
My thoughts of you are so unspoken. I’ve never really said how much I appreciate what you’ve done for me. I never gave a clue to how much you touched my life. You’ve set such a perfect example of what I wish to be. You’re so kind and patient; I see the Holy Spirit in your eyes. You helped lighten the path to our Lord above. I realize now that I will serve my life in loyalty and witness through my joy and love. It’s special people like you that make life worth living for. You help us understand that everything will be all right if we let the Lord lead the way. You’ve taught us all so many uncountable things, and we will always remember your name when we pray. You’ve been blessed in such a way that you teach our Father’s Word so we can understand. So many were once lost and you showed them the way. There is so little you ever demand. You helped us cope with a world so cold. Sometimes it seemed there was only hating and lies, but somehow your messages seemed to make it all better. Maybe you’re an angel in disguise.
Rainy was in the hospital when I first met her. Her mother had recently died and her father lived out of state, so she lived in her mother’s house with her sister and a family friend. I was asked to visit Rainy by her neighbors who attended our church. At the end of my visit I asked if she wanted to receive the Lord. With tears in her eyes she prayed and asked Jesus into her life. I visited Rainy at the hospital several times and continued to encourage her faith. Weeks later she began to attend the youth group and rarely missed a meeting. She was special because I had shared her pain and emotionally invested in her life. I knew God had made our paths cross at a critical time. Her letter revealed how important I was to her and how God used me to communicate His love. Six months later I moved to Northern California. I often thought of Rainy and prayed for her, but I hadn’t seen her for three years. Then I moved back to Southern California to pastor a small church. One Sunday morning, much to my delight, I saw her sitting in the congregation. When we talked after the service, I learned she was still serving the Lord faithfully. I always wanted to be a hero. Maybe I am to her.
The Reverend Scott Gossenberger graduated from Melodyland School of Theology in 1982 with a B. A. in Biblical Studies, then received his Master’s in Church Leadership from Southern California College.
Pastor Gossenberger served as a youth pastor from 1981 to 1991. He began his ministry at Melodyland Christian Center in Southern California, spent five years at Newport Mesa Christian Center, then moved to Northern California where he served at Vaca Valley Christian Life Center for three years. He has seen his youth groups grow numerically and spiritually by implementing campus prayer groups, outreach and discipleship programs, and evangelistic midweek services.
He then pastured Bethel Assembly of God before moving back into youth ministry at Ventura First Assembly of God. He is also president of Youth Ministries, Unlimited, a youth worker, training, ministry.
He and his wife have two children: five-year-old Jason and two-year-old Jessica.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY “FOCUS ON THE FAMILY”, 1996, TAKEN FROM PARENTING, AND COMPILED AND EDITED BY HAL DONALDSONAND KENNETH M. DOBSON. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.