Last Wednesday night I had the immense privilege of attending a goodbye celebration for Bill Freund (affectionally known as “Mr. Bill“). After 7 years as the youth leader at Grace Chapel in Castle Rock, Colorado he stepped down to pursue the next chapter God has for him in youth ministry.
Mr. Bill has been in youth ministry for over 30 years and, as I have often told others, he is the best youth leader I know.
Why? Is it because he was a former high school quarterback star that woos the crowd with his good looks and personality?
Is it because he’s the best communicator this side of Doug Fields?
Is it because he leads games that are fun, provides the best snacks and has the coolest youth room in town?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
It’s because he loves Jesus and loves teenagers and he relentlessly and relationally calls them to advance the Gospel with their lives and their lips.
It was a packed house in his final youth group meeting last Wednesday night. After a few games and lots youth groupy food (Little Caesars and Coke), Mr. Bill asked those teenagers who wanted to share a few of their thoughts about their time under his leadership as a youth leader to approach the open microphone and share.
And boy did they come. One after another after another. I heard teenager after teenager, many through tears, say things like,
“I never felt so loved as when I walked into this youth room.”
“Mr. Bill invested in me when nobody else would.“
“He challenged and equipped us to know Jesus and make him known.”
Then the adults started, and not just adult leaders in the youth group, but former members of his youth ministry who were now off and on their own as adults. They went on and on about the deep impact that he had made on their lives and how it still impacts them to this day.
And then other youth leaders from other youth groups began to share about how he had invested in them and equipped them to lead Gospel Advancing, disciple multiplying ministries.
It was like something out of a movie. Person after person with story after story of the impact that he had made in their lives approached the microphone to share.
It finally struck me which movie…Mr. Holland’s Opus.
This movie, made in 1995, tells the story of Mr. Holland, a frustrated would-be composer who wanted to get famous by composing a symphony that would propel him into the limelight. But, to pay the bills, he gets “stuck” in the role of a high school music teacher.
After years of frustratingly trying to get his symphony composed he finally succumbed to being a teacher…and, although it frustrated him that he was not doing his dream job as a full-time composer, he was surprisingly good at teaching high school students music.
The movie chronicles his ups and downs and hopes and hurts as a high school music teacher who eventually gives up on his dream of being a composer.
At his forced retirement, the student body (and former students from decades earlier) got together to honor him. Person after person shared the impact he and his passion for music had made on their lives.
This so reminded me of last Wednesday night at Mr. Bill’s open mic night.
Governor Lang, one of the characters in the movie who had studied music as a high school student under his leadership, gave the final charge. Speaking to the crowded school auditorium, with Mr. Holland sitting on the front row, she said these powerful words,
“Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life, on a lot of lives I know. And yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. And he would be wrong, because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life. Mr. Holland, we would now like to give something back to you, to you and to your wife, who, along with you, has waited 30 years for what we are about to hear.If you will, would you please come up here and take this baton and lead us in the first performance ever of The American Symphony by Glenn Holland.”
With that Mr. Holland got up and led The American Symphony with current and former students playing the various instruments…including the Governor herself.
This is a powerful movie worth seeing.
In many ways this scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus was a lot like what I witnessed last Wednesday night in Castle Rock, Colorado. Teen after teen and adult after adult impacted by Mr. Bill are his living, breathing symphony. They are the “melodies and notes” of his opus. Or, as Paul told the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 3:2, “Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you.”
In one way the movie is a lot like what happened last Wednesday night. But in another big way, it’s nothing at all like it.
Because, unlike Mr. Holland, Mr. Bill never wanted to become famous. He never had any other desire. He knew from day one what he wanted his symphony to be…the changed lives of the teenagers under his care.
Pray for Mr. Bill and his wonderful wife, Jean, as they navigate their next steps and next place in youth ministry. Pray for the teenagers at Grace Chapel to keep the legacy going (after all their youth group name is “Legacy.”)
I thank God that so many of us have had the privilege of knowing a living legend like Mr. Bill. I’m excited to see what’s next for him.