This is part 3 of a series honoring men who have had a great impact on my life.
There are countless people who can say that they were greatly impacted by their youth ministry in their adolescent years. Many can say they had fun, but unfortunately not all can say that they were truly spiritually grounded in their faith.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Mark Wilke set the mold for me for what a youth pastor was. He was extremely funny yet sensitive, could teach the Bible in a way that was clear and understandable, played guitar and had a wife that could sing. It just seemed like the perfect combo. I remember many talks he would give that would include a special number by Julie. This is how youth ministry works, I thought. (Although I got the wife that can sing, my guitar is going on 20 years old and has been about as useful as the invisible dog I bought in middle school.)
Most of my time being influenced by Mark was on the periphery, since he was the Sr High Director when I was in Jr High. However, my freshman year of high school was one that was greatly impacted by him. It was after one of the talks at summer camp (Summer Charge ’90) that I began to sense God’s calling on my life. I remember clearly seeing the impact that was being made on my friends and in my own life. Walking across the sports field under a cloudless, starry night, I remember God tugging my heart. My life would never be the same.
Up until then, there were various career choices I thought I’d be heading to. There was the zookeeper, then the private investigator, but now youth ministry was being stirred within me. Not only a ministry, but a school to attend: Moody Bible Institute.
For one year I had the privilege of being under Mark’s ministry. I got to see him serve faithfully, even in the jobs that weren’t necessarily glorious. I saw that ministry wasn’t just about who you are or what you do “up front”. This man was having impact on my life beyond Francios the Puking Bat or being the ringleader of “Roll Out The Barrel” on a missions trip to Tennessee. When it was announced that he and Julie were leaving at the end of the school year in ’91 it was met with many tears. Probably every youth ministry in the 80’s or early 90’s had Michael W. Smith’s “Friends” sung at some point. We went with “Pray For Me” instead, which was pretty much just an updated version of the same song.
I didn’t really know how to express my appreciation for him into words at the time. So I did the next best thing. I made a mix tape. Michael W. Smith…Al Denson…Ray Boltz…Petra. It was all on there. I didn’t know what was going to come next when Mark left. I knew he would be missed. I was so thankful for this man who had laid some foundational work in my life.
Sometimes the characters that exit in one chapter of our lives find their way reintroduced later in the story. I am one who is fortunate to have such a story with Mark. In 2000, he was the senior pastor of a young church in Ohio and I had the privilege of coming to his church to serve as their first youth pastor. For five years I had the honor of serving with him and my life has been forever changed.
His weekly “Good morning, family” served as a reminder that we were related by a mutual Heavenly Father, not just a gathering of isolated individuals. This bond goes deeper than DNA. He had an incredible ability to impact the heart with truth. He was passionate about his preaching because he was in love with the One his preaching pointed to. Mark didn’t follow a set pattern of preaching. In other words, you weren’t going to hear 5 steps to this or 3 steps to that. He just preached. Verse by verse. With a rapid fire delivery that was sure to hit you with something. You could hear a sermon and be laughing one moment and gasping for breath the next because of the impact of the truth he was boldly proclaiming. The non-outline method seemed unique and yet I saw it connecting with people of all ages. He impacted the way I preach.
Mark helped me cut my teeth in ministry. I had incredible freedom to work and grow. Ministry was fun. He allowed me to be real and vulnerable during difficult times in my life. He encouraged me. There was relationship “outside the office”. He helped me to see that healthy churches need to have a healthy staff and healthy leadership. We had a great staff who truly enjoyed one another. He provided a model for that. He cared for my personal development, not only what I could produce. He helped me establish parameters in emphasizing my family as my ministry priority.
Mark continually pointed to the fact that as believers, we win. The worst that can happen is that we die…and then we go home. So there is no fear in death, no reason not to give our all. The “tag line” for the church was “It’s All About God”. Mark helped me to see what that meant.
Mark, for your role in some important chapters in my life, I am eternally grateful. Thank you. Love ya, bro.