the shape of leadership

Offering to Help Opens Doors

A conversation with Joe Franco

Chris Colvin on May 31, 2018

With more than 20 years of youth ministry under his belt, Joe Franco has served a lot of students. But the most important ones have been those under his own roof.

“So many pastors put all their energy in the church and reaching the lost,” says Franco, who serves as youth pastor at Gresham Family Worship Center (Assemblies of God) near Portland, Oregon. “But what about loving their own children? How do I balance that?”

One way he found was getting involved in his kids’ school. Franco offered to volunteer at the middle school when his oldest son, Joey, attended there.

“I said, ‘Let me help out in the kitchen,’” Franco says. “Anything to just get my foot in the door.”

The school asked him to coach football and basketball instead, two sports Joey excelled at. Franco coached Joey all the way to high school, but then gave that up to coach his younger child, David, in third grade. Tracking with his kids each year has given Franco a chance to stay connected with them.

Coaching in the public schools has opened doors for Franco to build relationships with students, school administrators, teachers and parents. Sixteen-year-old Joey has led more than 100 fellow students to the Lord, and about 80 percent of the football and basketball teams now attend the youth group at Gresham Family Worship Center.

“Schools are looking for someone to partner with them.”
— Joe Franco

Being at the same church for 15 years has allowed Franco to develop ties of trust with the community and schools.

“Joe is a modern-day hero,” says Franco’s wife, Andrea. “Joe believes in students and sees the potential God has in store for their lives. He never complains, no matter how exhausted he may be. He goes above and beyond what most people would do because he believes that God has a plan, and he wants to share the gospel with as many people as he can, including his family.”

Franco is one of the many incredible bivocational pastors in the Assemblies of God. Giving up his spare time to invest in the lives of students is a way to sow into hard soil and reap an abundant harvest.

“Schools are looking for help,” Franco says. “Our neighborhood is rough. There’s lots of crime with strip clubs and bars on every corner. They’re looking for an answer. And schools are looking for someone to partner with them.”

That doesn’t mean Franco gets to preach in the school halls. But it does mean he can be present on campus, help oversee a student-led Youth Alive Bible club, and give his input to the principal and administration on important matters.

“What they really want from us is to love on every student we come in contact with,” Franco says. “That’s the heart of every youth pastor I know!”

Franco says it simply takes a willingness to serve and a commitment to build relationships. The doors are open to do something great for the Kingdom in the nation’s public school system — and Franco is living proof of that.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.


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