In 1975, I was 15 years old. Frankly, I fluctuated between nerd and punk on a regular basis – a kid without many bearings. I attended church pretty regularly (the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Church that my mother’s family had been a part of for years) but I was already beginning to know that somehow I didn’t fit there. In the desire to “fit in” that overcomes all young men in their teens, I also found myself drifting in directions of rebellion that could easily put me on a path toward heartache.
And then I met Jack.
Jack Jagoditsch was the area director of the Nashville Young Life ministry, and the adult leader of the Young Life club at Hillwood High School. Back then, Jack was a man with dark hair who lived in the neighborhood and who braved the school cafeteria regularly to invite kids to come to these Young Life clubs in people’s houses. “It’s a Christian thing,” my friends told me, “but it’s not like any church you’ve ever been too.” I don’t remember exactly when I received the invitation to attend, but I went, not knowing what to expect. I don’t think I missed a Young Life club during my high school years after that first visit.
Certainly Young Life as an organization was important in making me who I am today, but I think it was Jack who led me down the road toward a deeper discipleship. Of course Jack modeled discipleship in his own life as he gave countless hours to being involved in the lives of kids. Jack had a family of his own, but his calling to minister to the kids at Hillwood was so strong that it was clear that he was sacrificing some of his family time to be involved with his other family – his Young Life family. Jack modeled a Christianity that was robust and energetic, a contrast to the limp handshake faith of my church’s pastor. His faith was about life abundantly . . . and he lived it to the fullest. Jack was the person who first took me canoeing (he was a dedicated white water fan) and imparted to me a love of traveling down a rushing stream. He wasn’t hesitant to have fun, but when it was time to focus on the serious stuff of faith, he got right to it.
My clearest memory of Jack was at the Judy’s restaurant (a Wendy’s clone that quickly went by the wayside) in our neighborhood. Jack had invited me to dinner, and we spent a couple of hours talking. He asked me about my hopes and dreams, and then listened as a kid who far too often felt unheard shared of his heart. We didn’t come to any life changing solutions, but in a way my simply being heard and loved unconditionally in that moment was a life changing solution. I felt heard. I felt loved. And in receiving that grace from Jack, I experienced first hand the grace of God.
I got word this morning that Jack passed away on Monday following a long battle with cancer. We had not seen each other since high school, with Jack leaving near my senior year to go to seminary and eventually into the pastorate in the PCA. However we had reconnected through e-mail and Facebook, and I watched from afar as he bravely battled a difficult illness. I hope and pray that I can face death with as much faith and confidence as he when my time comes.
Jack Jagoditsch was a mentor in faith, life, and ministry. I would not be who I am today without his influence in my life.
And for his witness to God’s grace in this world, I give God glory as Jack is embraced in the next.