On January 1, 2016, the Jacksons will begin a brand new adventure in Des Moines, Iowa, as Jason begins his new role as Pastor of Discipleship at Saylorville Church.
Meredith and I have been part of the Heritage family for half of our lives. We began attending here as college freshmen in 1997, and we were quickly adopted by several teenagers and families. We began serving as volunteer youth leaders shortly after we became members, and God continued to knit our hearts together with the precious Heritage family through our college and seminary years. In 2001, Pastor Dave Culver asked me to direct the student ministries, and I began a full-time youth internship shortly thereafter. When I graduated with my master’s degree from seminary in 2004, Heritage voted unanimously to call me as the full-time Pastor of Student Ministries.
In a sense, Meredith and I grew up here. We started our dating relationship while we were here. We got engaged here. We got married and came back here right after our honeymoon. We bought our first car, rented our first apartment, and moved into our first house together, all while we attended Heritage in those early years.
The last eighteen years of memories play over and over in our minds like a grainy old family home video. You know, the kind where the family gathers around the TV and laughs and cries and slaps each other on the back while they watch video clips that hold so much meaning for their family, but don’t make much sense to anybody outside the family.
I remember sitting under the incredible preaching of Tony Beckett. I marveled at how tall Fran Scott really was close up. As a college student, I prayed for Seth Maxwell when he was born and remember him sitting right up in the front row in a full-body cast. I remember when Mel Walker had a mustache, when Bruce Hartley had a lot more hair, and when nobody was allowed to have a beard—we were told they were only for hobos and loggers and hippies.
It was at soccer camp at Baptist Bible College during the summer of 1998 that a bunch of Heritage students like Matt Thompson, Caleb Andrist, Philip Kirby, Seth Unruh, and Caleb Hartzler asked Meredith and me to be youth workers under Tony and Becky Tice. We returned for school that fall and looked for Tony and Becky, only to find that they had left, and Jerry and Becka Hines had stepped in to lead the student ministries. They graciously added us to the team of volunteer youth workers, and we were hooked. We love every minute of it.
My mind replays the clips of welcoming Dave and Carolyn Culver as our Lead Pastor. Meredith and I were with our students at Hal and Nancy Cross’s house when we first had the chance to meet the Culvers. I helped unload Rob and Sherry Hammaker’s moving truck when Rob was hired as our Pastor of something-or-other. I’m not sure we really ever defined what that was.
I remember when Gary Roberts and Ken Hansen almost single-handedly built the Education Wing, and then when we paid off the mortgage in record time. I remember when the Family Room collapsed under the weight of a February snow storm, and we rebuilt that space—also in record time, but not the good kind of record.
I watch as the grainy family home video replays clips of Quarterly Business Meetings. Clearly some of the best—and worst—moments in our history as a church family. I can’t stop watching as Pastor Rob tries to explain something from behind the old wooden pulpit and suddenly a bat flies in the back door. Everybody started screaming and hiding under their chairs, but Andy Harkleroad grabbed an umbrella and took a major league swing at that bat. I still remember the sound as Andy made solid contact with the flying bat, and then the bat made solid contact with the back of Matt Thompson’s head. I’m not sure who’s scream is ingrained in my memory—the bat when it got hit, or Matt’s when he got hit—but both screams sounded about the same, as I recall.
I remember when I convinced Justin Kashuba to ride a rolling ping-pong table down the hill in the back parking lot while I videoed it and cackled with laughter. It didn’t end well for Justin, but the video is up to about 20,000 views on YouTube. It’s nice to know that not all of my youth ministry mistakes made it to YouTube. I watch as teenagers and youth leaders break their noses, tear their ACLs, fracture their wrists, get hit with flying ping-pong paddles, metal chairs, footballs, and of course, dodge-balls. Most of those people are still alive today. I remember when Dow Pursley made me lay down on a bed of nails and used a sledge hammer to break two cinder blocks on my chest. I’m still not sure why I had to do that, but I knew that I didn’t want to mess with Dow.
The old home video rolls through clips of weddings and funerals. The birth of new babies, and the home-going of some of God’s precious saints. I stood at the graves of John Antolick, Sr, Tom and Peggy Amos, Corky Shupp, David Benjamin, John Warnken, Dick Engle, Josh Snyder, Bill and Janice Schmitt, Scott Schultheis, and so many more over the years. In every case, marveling at the frailty of human life and the importance of investing our own days wisely.
Some of you stood with Meredith and me at a little cemetery outside Rochester, New York, when her father passed away after a vicious battle with a terrible disease called ALS. You put your arms around us for more than ten years when we battled our own struggle with infertility. When we were crushed, you held us. When we were vulnerable, you protected us. When we felt alone, you surrounded us. And when God gave us Judah, you welcomed him into the Heritage family as you had welcomed Meredith and me so many years before.
I replay the HSM retreats, the all-nighters, the events and activities. I watch home video of Fanzone, of the Spammys, of Winterfest and Walleyball, of Fall Kickoffs and Beach Trips, LiFT Camp, Radiate, Launch, and Teen Leadership Conference. If it had a cool, hip, youth ministry name, we probably went to it. Every event with its own close-ups of places, faces, and reminders of God’s incredible goodness to us.
Next, we watch old footage from Missions Trips. As I watch, I remember how special these memories are. From Philadelphia to London, from Durban to Berlin, from Chicago to Ecuador, from Kokstad, South Africa, to a little place called New York City—every single one is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and the love of this Heritage family. This year’s Guatemala Trip and our junior high Ignite Trip were some of the best. Simply put, Meredith and I have had our hearts expanded beyond what we ever thought possible. I’m reminded of how blessed I am to be part of this Heritage family that identifies, trains, and sends men and women across the road and across the world to live on mission.
Speaking of life on mission, the grainy home video now seems to turn into a slideshow of faces—rapidly flashing in and out of view. As I watch, I quickly realize that these are all faces of men and women who have journeyed along with us as students or youth leaders at HSM who are now serving in some kind of vocational ministry. I recognize the faces of Matt and Bethany Thompson, Mike and Lindsay Davis, Ron and Rachel Hayes, Travis and Kaci Walker, Richard and Julia Rudolph, Edson and Jamie Bezerra, Zach and Beth Sprowls, Joseph and Nicole Peterson, Brandon Maxwell, Ethan Harkleroad, Alyssa Maxwell, John Amos, and several others I know came before my time at Heritage and several more who will come after us. I’m reminded that Heritage is, after all, a sending church.
As I watch the old home video in front of me, I can’t help but be reminded that Meredith and I grew up right here at Heritage. From our years as an immature, irresponsible, and unreliable dating couple until today (and actually the same holds true of me today—I’m just married now!), Heritage has been our home. You have been our parents, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, and, at times, some of you have been like our kids. In fact, every one of our current HSM students was born after Meredith and I started here at Heritage. We have kids at HSM who are kids of the students that we started with. I guess that makes us youth ministry grandparents. Heritage is, has been, and always will be the family that helped form us into who we are. For eighteen years, Heritage has been home.
Home is comfortable. Home is stable. Home is warm. Home is safe. And these are all qualities that every home should have—the kind of home that every child longs to grow up in. But my years in student ministry have shown me that some of the experiences that God uses to grow us most are those experiences that are uncomfortable. In fact, we’ve often told our students that God’s greatest concern for us isn’t that we will be comfortable, but that we will be Christlike. He wants us to be holy more than He wants us to be happy. Simply put, He wants us to be like Jesus, who is the ultimate example of someone who left the comforts of home to obey His Father’s call.
And so, sometimes God makes it clear that it’s time to leave home. Not because home has become unstable, or uncomfortable, or unsafe, but because families that love each other want what’s best for each other. Because parents who love their children know that what’s best for them is sometimes to leave the safety and security of home. Because younger brothers sometimes need their older brother to leave so they can step up and fill his shoes. Because, sometimes, God has plans so big for each member of the family that they can’t possibly all fit in the same house anymore. So, at some point, most of us will leave home. It’s almost never easy. Sometimes it’s heart-wrenching. Sometimes it’s expected, and other times it seems out of the blue. It’s bittersweet, but more often than not, it’s for the best.
It’s time for Meredith and me to leave home. It’s time for us to be who you have trained us to be. It’s time for us to pass the baton—to give up our bedrooms to younger siblings. It’s time for Heritage to push Jason and Meredith Jackson out of the nest, just like you’ve done with dozens before us and will continue to do with so many after us.
A few months ago, Pastor Glenn made a statement that went something like this: If God has big plans for Saylorville Church in Des Moines, Iowa, with Jason and Meredith, then He also has big plans for Heritage Baptist Church in Clarks Summit, PA, without Jason and Meredith.
We believe that. And we believe that God is going to use Luke and Shaelyn Peterson and their team of volunteer youth workers to continue to help more students be more like Jesus. Luke, Meredith and I are taking a 15-year-old teenager that we’ve helped raise, and dropping him off on your doorstep. We’re asking you to adopt him. We’re asking you to continue to raise this crazy teenager called Heritage Student Ministry. But you’re not alone—look around. Like I was, you will be surrounded by an incredible church that genuinely wants to help. Let them.
Friends, Meredith and I don’t want to leave. We don’t want to move. We don’t want to deal with a house we still haven’t sold. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. But, for the Christian, comfort can never be the primary reason we do anything.
You know who taught us that? You did. Heritage, God has used you to mold our little family into who we are, and we are forever in your debt. Thank you for loving us and for showing us how God loves us. We truly believe the best is yet to come for Heritage as you give everything to help more people be more like Jesus in Clarks Summit, in Des Moines, Iowa, and around the world.