2018-04-01 / Insight

‘It just clicks’

Lapeer’s newest youth pastor spreads God’s message
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Josh Bishop, 20, of Emmett, has served as youth pastor at The Point Church on Oregon Street in Lapeer since January. 
Photo by Jeff Hogan Josh Bishop, 20, of Emmett, has served as youth pastor at The Point Church on Oregon Street in Lapeer since January. Photo by Jeff Hogan LAPEER — Josh Bishop knows a thing or two about how it is to be a teenager experiencing feelings of hopelessness and being lost.

The now 20-year-old battled the disease of drug and alcohol addiction in his early- to mid-teens. He says he was “mean.” He struggled in school.

Then, he didn’t.

The reason?

He opened himself to the possibilities of feeling joy, love, and peace through a relationship with God — feelings many are likely to experience this Easter Sunday.

“It was the first time I felt like someone actually loved me,” Bishop says of when he first started experiencing something other than resentment at church.

Today, Bishop is on a mission to help others feel the same.

Since January, the Emmett resident has served as youth pastor at The Point Church, 459 Oregon St., in Lapeer.

The Point Church is a member of the Cleveland, Tenn.-based Church of God — a Pentecostal Christian denomination that dates to the late 1800s.

In late 2017, Pastors Mark and Tara Fibranz, both in their 30s, were asked if they would consider becoming lead pastors of the former Lapeer Church of God (near downtown Lapeer, where Oregon and Bowers meet).

Tara Fibranz said they decided — after “several weeks” of praying — to take on the role after having served as associate pastors at The River Church in Fort Gratiot.

They replaced the former pastor who had retired.

“When we came, the church had been in a bit of a decline,” Tara Fibranz said. “We wanted to give it a little more energy…refresh it.”

They changed the name.

They installed new signage at one Lapeer County’s busiest and most awkward intersections.

And they gave the job of youth pastor to Bishop, whom they had known from The River, where Bishop had interned.

“He said that he felt God was telling him that he needed to come serve here with us and we totally agreed,” Tara Fibranz said.

By definition, a youth pastor is one who a trained specifically to work with youth.

Tara Fibranz said a youth pastor is integral to the overall success of a church like The Point.

“A lot of time you hear the saying that ‘Children are our future’, but that’s not true — children are the current,” she said. “If we don’t spend time investing in them about God’s goodness and grace…then we can’t expect them to turn into adults who attend church.”

“And obviously there’s a different way of reaching teenagers than adults, and Josh does a great job of that,” Fibranz added.

To be clear, youth pastors don’t have to actually be “youth” — it just helps.

“It’s important to have someone in that role who understands teenagers, and knows how to speak to them so that they can understand God’s message,” Fibranz said.

At The Point, Bishop aims to foster that connection when youth group is held every Wednesday at 6 p.m.

It’s open to those who are generally middle school to high school ages.

During youth group, youngsters can take part in some of the activities available, like table tennis. Light refreshments are available.

And Bishop talks with them about a specific topic.

This past Wednesday Bishop focused on the idea of “belonging.”

Bishop said he told the group that “Something I did before was…I would look at a group, and be like ‘Well, I like that group, and they seem to get along with everyone, so I’m going to find my identity in that — I’m going to put a mask on and not use my real self because if I do then people are going to shun me.’ Then you start to hide behind a façade of someone else and when their opinion of you changes, that crushes you.”

“But when we find our identity in Christ, we already know that we’re accepted for who we are,” Bishop said.

The biggest indication that such messages are heard and understood, Bishop said, can largely be seen in the faces of the kids.

“Sometimes you see…it just clicks,” Bishop said.

Currently, Bishop’s role as a youth pastor is a volunteer position.

When not working his regular job with a cleaning company, Bishop says, he is studying to become an ordained minister through Lee University, which has historically been affiliated with the Church of God.

Or he may be planning his next youth group. Bishop says he bases lessons on scripture — not things that might be considered “political” or necessarily be drawn on headlines.

Or he might be hanging out with his friends, doing stuff like riding his longboard skateboard.

Whatever he’s up to, it’s a drastic change from the time when Bishop first went to a service at The River when he was 16 and experienced a certain kind of enlightenment.

“I grew up in a Christian home so I always kind of went to church,” Bishop says. “But I was one of those kids who was forced to go so I ended up resenting it.”

Bishop said his family would often try new churches and he had a basic familiarity with the concept of God and religion, “but was going through the motions.”

“I was an alcoholic and drug addict for a good five or six years,” Bishop said of his early teens.

He went with his family to The River Church on Sunday and says he thought “OK, these people are kind of nice.”

He went back the following Sunday.

“The pastor came up to me and just started talking to me,” Bishop says.

Bishop felt accepted. He started going to youth group.

“I listened for once, and talked to them, and they showed me what it was like to love and to be loved,” he said.

Soon thereafter, he committed fully to God.

“And in that moment, the guilt, the shame, the condemnation, the depression…all of that left,” Bishop said. “And for the first time in my entire life I felt free. And I felt love. And it was amazing.”

He would go on to serve as an intern at that same church, before coming to Lapeer with The Point as youth pastor.

“It’s got to be something you have a heart for,” Bishop says of being a youth pastor. “You absolutely have to love youth and be patient with them.”

Otherwise, he says, there isn’t really a secret to having success as a youth pastor.

“Just be compassionate with them. Show them that you’re not going to be upset with them just because they mess up once or 100 times,” Bishop says. “Just knowing that they’ve got someone who is there no matter what happens… that they have a Father in heaven who is always going to love them unconditionally, and that there is forgiveness and grace.”

More information about The Point Church in Lapeer can be found at thepointlapeer.com.

In addition to youth group, the church offers services at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and 11 a.m. on Sunday.

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