This week I had the opportunity over email (gotta love the internet) with a great brother in Christ; a very close friend, a mentor, and an accountability partner: Pastor Dave Lombardo. Dave is serving as the youth pastor at The People’s Church in Toronto, and had worked in partnership with Youth Unlimited for a number of years through the church we were both attending and on staff of in East York in Toronto. Dave was kind enough to take some time to answer these questions and share some insight with us.
Could you share a bit about your testimony?
DL: I was raised in a Christian home and church attendance was a non-negotiable for our family. Every Sunday morning my parents faithfully got us out of bed and brought us to church. You would find us at the evening services each week as well. My parents were always involved in volunteer roles at the church. My mom regularly coordinated and led children’s ministry initiatives while my dad was on the church board and helped in other administrative roles. From an early age I understood that church isn’t just a place to go, but a place to be active. Most of my childhood memories are connected to my church life. When I was in my teens I detoured from the church and a life of active faith after some unfortunate events took place in our family. Though I didn’t stop believing God existed, I stopped caring about whether or not His existence mattered to me and how I live my life. When I was 18 or 19 I met a Christian leader who was passionately serving teenagers in Toronto’s East End. He asked me some tough questions about my life and led me back to the Jesus I had once known and loved. It wasn’t until this time that I truly understood what it meant to live out my faith wherever I go. From time to time I wonder about whether or not I was truly saved as a young teen when I professed faith or if my salvation didn’t actually take place until those later years when my life was changed radically by God’s love and grace. I believe that I was saved on the profession of faith as a young person but that it wasn’t until later that I experienced what some have called “Gospel wakefulness” which is heightened awareness of the purpose of the Gospel for salvation and Christian living.
When/how did you know you were called to your ministry?
DL: Every Christian is called into ministry. It’s unfortunate that our culture has professionalized certain aspects of pastoral ministry and other forms of Christian leadership. Sometimes we understand “being called into ministry” only in relation to vocational ministry which can mislead those who are not in vocational ministry to think they aren’t “called to ministry”. As for me and my call into vocational ministry (which I think your question is really trying to get at!)[editors note; it was, but I *LOVE* that you addressed that first part], the truth is that I didn’t know I was called until I was already doing it. I had been invited to serve in a particular youth ministry while studying full-time at a downtown Toronto community college. While these two things were taking place I recognized that God had been increasing my opportunities to serve in various capacities at the local church I was attending. Eventually it got to the point where the only thing I could think about was reaching the lost and pastoring other Christians to trust Christ more and take Him at his Word. There are many ways to do that and I’m enjoying every minute of figuring out how to communicate to goodness of the Gospel in whatever role or position I find myself in.
Can you tell me about your experiences with Youth Unlimited Canada?
DL: I greatly enjoyed my time with Youth Unlimited (Toronto YFC). During my time partnering with them in ministry I learned the value of networking and idea sharing. I learned that it is not wise to try and make it on your own and that true strength is in numbers. I learned how important is to create and innovate new approaches to caring for and serving people. I came to understand how important it is to work alongside people you don’t always agree with or who have a completely different leadership style. Even though I’m not employed with them any longer I still interact with YU staff at least once a week but usually more.
What are some of the difficulties you have faced in your time in ministry as a youth pastor at both a small(er) and large church?
DL: Other than differences in organizational structures and methods (which is vitally important to understand but relatively boring to what I think this interview is trying to accomplish) I’ve noticed that there are many similarities when it comes to teenagers and young adults in both of these contexts. Young people – just like all people! – want to be understood and accepted. They desire a safe place to be themselves and ask questions without the fear of being criticized for doing so. The difficulty is in fostering a culture where this can happen well. Smaller churches face the reality that everyone might know what’s going on in your life. This can be a deterrent for people who want to share their struggles but not have their secrets known by everyone. On the flipside, larger churches run the risk of having too many people to care for and therefore not be able to care for everyone well. No matter what we need to plant gospel seeds in our churches and pray against the enemy who wants no one to feel welcomed or safe.
How do you determine what to share with the youth?
DL: Each summer our youth team gathers and discusses what we will teach throughout the following year. This past year we wrote down all of the questions that had come from the students during the previous year of small groups and one on one meetings. Our list was long. Very long. There were questions about sex, gender identity, science, whether or not the Bible is actually reliable, how to reach friends, and so many more. Seriously, there were a lot of questions. After a time of prayer we began to group the questions into categories, then we created mini-series’ ensuring that we covered the breadth of topics, and slotted them into the calendar for the next year. After doing this our teaching team would take their question (or set of questions) and go to the Bible to find the answers. The result? Our talks and Life Group content for the year. I should mention that a lot of prayer takes place throughout this entire process. A principle we’ve gathered over the past few years is that it is not wise to assume we know what our students need to learn but to listen to their needs and meet them where they are through contextualizing the Gospel. Of course, there are certain things that students don’t ask for and yet still need to hear. We trust God for the discernment to teach these things as well. If students were asking ridiculous questions that were completely irrelevant to knowing Jesus and living a life of faith then we’d have to find a different approach.
How do you take care of your volunteers?
DL: I pray for them, feed them, counsel them, feed them, make them laugh, encourage them and build them up, feed them, hold them accountable, and believe in them. I try to ensure that my volunteers have meaningful work to do and not just token jobs. Of course, sometimes the chairs need to be stacked and the floors need to be cleaned and when these types of jobs are being done I try to be right there with them doing it as well. I like to give plenty of responsibility to our volunteers so that they feel the weight of the ministry which in turn increases their ownership. Without our volunteers our youth ministry wouldn’t exist. God has given us a team of incredible volunteers. They love the Lord, their patience is endless, their sense of humour is on point, and they are the types of adults I hope and pray our students become when they graduate out of youth. Also, we feed them.
Are there any preachers/authors/theologians you learn from that you’d recommend?
DL: I enjoy reading the sermons John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s “Lectures to my Students” is a must have for any preacher. I also enjoy reading what Tim Keller has to say as most of what comes from the tip of his pen is like pure gold. Mark Clark is a church planter in Vancouver who has a unique voice and perspective on Canada’s culture. He is worth paying attention to. But those are guys I don’t know personally. I have been greatly blessed to spend time with Charles Price who is just about to retire after many years of faithful Bible teaching at my church. He is the same man in and out of the pulpit. He is full of grace and wisdom. His questions are pointed and there is no doubt that he wants to see people grow in their intimacy with Christ. Charles has been a tremendous influence on my thinking, my preaching, the way I love and care for my wife and family, and simply to be a better man.
What would you say are some of the difficulties youth ministers face?
DL: As with any ministry there are many challenges, so I’ll choose just one: Forgetting that our strength and influence is rooted in Jesus and the power of His Gospel. Time after time I find myself walking a student through a pile of problems and feel the temptation to simply give them some psychological ideas about how they can live differently or make better choices. Don’t get me wrong, this type of counsel is vital for anyone. However, if this counselling is not soaked in the Gospel then it will only provide temporary relief to the pain. The Gospel brings true healing. Students (and all people!) need to know they are loved and that forgiveness is available. God’s grace is abundant. Jesus’s death was their death, and his resurrection is their new life. The temptation to turn to the world and secular sources is real, and we need to ensure we start and finish with the Gospel and the Word of God in our leadership. We shouldn’t be ashamed of repeatedly talking about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and applying what Christ has purchased for us in the lives of those who we serve.
What is a difficulty faced by the church today?
DL: A lack of unity. Jesus tells us that the witness of our faith to the dying world will be found in our unity with other believers. It seems to me that many have gotten caught up in building their own castles and have forgotten about our call to build His Kingdom. I recognize that this is a challenge because it is something I have to fight in my own life every single day. I should also say, however, that there are some incredible networks and collaborative efforts happening in certain communities. I do believe that this can be overcome one step at a time.
What has been your biggest struggle as a person in pastoral ministry?
DL: Learning how to watch everything that I say has been a challenge. Words are astoundingly important. I’ve been learning to recognize that every personal opinion can easily be understood as biblical truth, or the church’s stance on a particular issue or method of ministry. Though it is good to have opinions, it is better to state clearly when something is a personal opinion and not necessarily what everyone else believes or even agrees with. This is a daily challenge for me because I have a loud mouth and (what is probably) too many opinions.
What are some of the ways you see the Lord at work in Canada?
DL: I can’t speak for all of Canada, so I’ll just comment on where I live and serve which is the Greater Toronto Area (GTA from here on). God is bringing the world to the GTA. The nations are gathering in the GTA. Whether it is for school, business, escaping their homeland in search of refuge, moving here with hopes of ensuring a solid education for their children, whatever the reason, the whole world seems to be coming to the GTA. This provides us with the incredible opportunity to meet with people from cultures and countries that in some instances we’ve never even heard of! We should be welcoming these wonderful newcomers, caring for them, getting to know them, and in doing so proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. Let’s not miss this opportunity!
And finally – what would you say to someone thinking about pursuing ministry (in this case, pastoral and youth) as a career?
DL: I’d probably ask them a whole slew of questions! Questions like: Can I buy you a coffee and talk about this? (The, presuming they accept my invite!) Why do you want to pursue this? Has God called you to this? How do you know? What is the Gospel? Who is mentoring you? Is your spouse (if there is one) encouraging you to start this journey? How can I be praying for you? What can I do to support you?
[Editors note: Dave also blogs some great stuff, which can be found at http://www.davidlombardo.com/ . Also, if you were interested in learning more about what Youth Unlimited does, you can check out what they do in the GTA here and Canada wide here .]