“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; but I have come that you might have life and have it above and beyond” – John 10:10
I made a new friend when I interviewed Kenneth Jason “KJ” Mahan of Boca Raton, Florida. I called the 29-year old because I heard about an exciting youth ministry program he was leading in south Florida. I didn’t expect to be inspired — but that’s exactly what happened.
KJ isn’t your typical stuffy, Bible-thumping, in-your-face kind of Christian. He doesn’t talk about Hell fire and damnation, and he isn’t the least bit judgmental. He’s a well-spoken, good looking, athletic, God-fearing “man’s man” with a call to reach young people and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He’s a natural athlete. That’s a good thing, because the Above and Beyond NOW youth team he leads is involved in all types of extreme sports, which they use as an outreach and witness program.
His father, Rev. Ken Mahan, created the first Above and Beyond team in Maryland during the 1970s when he saw a void in effective youth outreach programs.
“My dad felt the Lord’s calling to reach the youth of America,” KJ said. “People watch us perform, love what they see, and we get to spread the gospel.”
Wakeboarding, rollerblading, skateboarding, trampoline stunts and the infamous Slam/Dunk team are just a few of the teams that KJ oversees as youth leader for Above and Beyond Community Church in Boca Raton.
“We have a team for everyone,” he said. “We even have a media team for our techies.”
When I scheduled the interview, I wanted to talk about the performance teams. There’s something incredibly exciting about a Christian slam/dunk team witnessing for Christ, and I knew that would make a great story for my readers. But the more he and I spoke, the more evident it was that there was another story that needed to be told as well.
There’s a special spirit in KJ — it radiates from the man. He has a soft, yet powerful voice and projects the assured confidence of someone walking the right path in life. Some of that may be the natural confidence of an athlete, but with KJ it’s so much deeper.
I asked him about his relationship with his church and how he became so involved in working with youth — typical questions that a writer will ask during an interview. What I heard touched my heart.
In many ways, part of KJ’s story is typical for many preacher’s kids. He’s the middle of three sons of church pastor Ken Mahan and Lorraine Mahan, a Christian school principal. He was raised in church. He learned how to act right, speak right and could even quote scriptures on demand. Basically, he has mastered the art of living “saved.”
“I thought I was a Christian because I believed in Jesus Christ and I said the prayer of salvation,” he said. “But, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God.”
Things began to change during his freshman year of high school. “I started to rebel,” he said. “I didn’t smoke or drink (alcohol), but I hung out with friends that did all those things…I got a little wild.”
He was a popular kid in school, excelling at football to point that a college football scholarship appeared likely. To some extent though – he was a bully.
“I got into fights a few times,” he said, the regret still obvious in his voice after all these years. “In my heart, I knew I wasn’t a Christian…I was living for myself.”
But one night he was attending an Above and Beyond Camp meeting, when things changed. KJ made a decision that has forever altered the course of his life.
“My biggest fear has always been hypocrisy,” he said. “I knew I was living two lives and I was sick of it…I asked God what he wanted me to do in my life.”
That simple question led KJ to a life-altering moment of reconciliation.
“(God) spoke in my heart and led me forward (to the altar) to accept Him in my heart,” he said. “I really felt forgiven. I really felt the salvation of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was, for the very first time, living in my heart.”
He said he understood the importance of experiencing God on a daily basis.
“I knew I was a changed man…I was different inside and out.”
KJ continued to perform with the Above and Beyond team, drawing over 100 high school kids to practice sessions. “It was a powerful witness for kids in that area…because getting them to come out to see us was an achievement by itself…but it’s all God.”
He played football his senior year, but had lost the college scholarship. But, that was ok – God had a different plan for him.
“Football totally consumed my life,” he said. “God made it clear to me that I wasn’t to play football in college.”
KJ spent some time with his older brother Shawn who was attending Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. KJ enrolled there as well, and established the first college Above and Beyond performance group
“We were a very popular team…traveled all over the country witnessing for Jesus Christ and spreading the gospel at our (performances).”
He graduated with a degree in business, but never played LU football. After graduation, KJ moved to Florida and worked as a headhunter with an executive search company specializing in physician placements. He also became involved with the Above and Beyond Community Church, where he is now the youth and worship leader. In addition to leading Wednesday youth services, he also works with the A & B teams, traveling to demonstrations and helping guide the young people in their walk with God.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “I love working with these kids.”
Up to this point, KJ’s story was interesting, but nothing extraordinary. I grew up in church too – I’ve heard similar stories before. I’ve met my share of preacher’s kids and they are an interesting — sometimes mischievous – bunch. Yet, there was something very extraordinary about this guy, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
KJ shared stories of performing during NBA games and witnessing to high school students after pep rally exhibitions. He told me about teachers and students coming up to him and asking questions about God or wanting to pray a prayer of salvation. Never once did he take credit for that.
“It’s all God,” he said. “Everything we do…every performance we do…it is all because of God working through us.”
Then came the moment of truth.
“I found out three years ago that I was going to be a father,” he told me.
KJ was very candid about a time when he stumbled in his walk and gave in during a moment of weakness. He shared the incredible feeling of conviction he felt at the time, and how a phone call telling him he was going to be a father challenged his faith.
“The worst part was the guilt and shame that I felt during the moment,” he said. “I know God’s love is everlasting and His grace is unconditional. I didn’t let God down…He didn’t let me down.”
Faced with the news and the prospect of raising a child, KJ had to tell his church elders and find peace with his calling to work with youth. He had to answer the question of how — as a single father — he could be a positive example when working with adolescent youth?
The answer wasn’t pleasant, but he knew what had to be done.
Facing the young people that are part of his ministry was one of the most difficult things for a young man that never cried. Yet, without hesitation, he stood before his church congregation and wept. He shared his human failings and asked for the forgiveness of his God and his church. God’s forgiveness was instant. His church embraced him.
“I’m a single dad,” he said. “I gave in to a single moment of weakness…I let my guard down and Satan tried to steal my ministry. But, Satan didn’t win.”
Christian, now two years old, lives part of the time with his mother, and part of the time with KJ. But Christian’s family is actually much bigger.
“My church helps me raise my son…they are his family too,” he said.
The entire experience showed how human KJ is: failings and all. Yet through it all, he discovered the ultimate forgiveness in God and a new connection to his ministry. His testimony shows young people — and others too — that it is possible to walk with Jesus Christ and stumble without losing your salvation. His testimony is a reflection of the quality of person he was raised to be and the devotion he shares with his God.
“My worth is completely anchored in Jesus Christ,” he said. “We all have failings…we all fall short.”
Last October, KJ left his job and is now seeking the Lord’s guidance for what comes next. “He has his hand in my life,” he said. “I’m not one bit worried. I’m just praying about what direction God wants me to go.”
It was then that I discovered what appealed to me so much about this guy. He’s human. He’s very human. He has his victories and his defeats; yet KJ never loses sight of the goal because he knows his faith and salvation is secure.
There is no doubt that God has spoken to KJ Mahan and is leading him on a quest. He is a certain example that living for God has its ups and downs. Through it all, KJ has found the victory and become a stronger messenger in the process.
“I’m not self-righteous one bit…I’m just living above and beyond by God’s grace,” he said. And it’s true…every word of it.