As I work with the teenage boys in my congregation at church, I often think about Mike.
When I was a teen myself, I was deeply attached to the media, and its messages led me to largely reject the faith I’d so recently embraced. I didn’t go to church much, and wasn’t always kind towards efforts to reach out to me.
The biggest exception was Mike. Mike was an older, divorced man in my ward at church. One day, he called and asked if he could take me to a movie. I thought it was odd, but hey…free movie.
We talked about the ideas in the film afterwards, and he took seriously my shallow, morose interpretation of things, without knocking them down as he easily could have.
Over the next several months, we got together a few more times. Once, he invited me over to his apartment along with one of the boys my age who had a leadership role at church. We talked about movies and ideas, but not church. Not directly. Our philosophical ramblings often covered moral ground, and I expressed my fondness for nihilistic relativism. My company calmly espoused restored absolutism as a true alternative.
Mike didn’t preach to me. He didn’t tell me that I was wrong. I’m not sure if he ever even testified to me or asked me to come to church, though I’m sure he at least said I was welcome and missed.
And when I was a little older and more mature, I knew that I was welcome. And I knew that church was a place where people like Mike would let me grow at my own pace and in my own way.
I never really questioned why this guy was hanging out with some kid he didn’t know. I just liked the movies and the conversation. Mike seemed to know that.
I really never questioned just how this guy knew to contact me and hang out in the first place. It couldn’t be random, right?
I’ve since connected the dots. Mike was the executive secretary in our ward. In some leadership meeting, as they struggled to figure out how to serve me and help me be happier, and maybe even come back to church, either Mike volunteered or got volunteered to approach me. And no, he wasn’t my home teacher.
It would be interesting to know how his reports on his work with me went. The first movie Mike took me to see was The Shawshank Redemption. The second was A Clockwork Orange. Both were rated R, though it never occurred to me that Mike was breaching protocol to reach out to me. Perhaps Mike was like the Apostle Paul, who said:
“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews…
To them that are without law, as without law…
I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)
Mike used the ideas in those movies to talk to me about things that might lead me back to God. And that time at his place with the other young man? By that point, the movie was A Man For All Seasons. The other teen and I both fell asleep, but Mike didn’t mind. (And when I watched that film a few years ago, I loved it.)
So much of who I am is because of the Church, and part of how I was able to come back to church was because of Mike.
I can only hope that I can help some spiritually needy youth the way Mike helped me.