Partnership Gathering Sharing
Nearly a year ago I started volunteering with the youth group at The River. For those unaware, our youth group meets twice a week on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. Honestly, I began serving for all the wrong reasons. Mostly I joined because my friends were doing it and it seemed like a good excuse to spend more time with them. Least of all I joined because I actually like youth. As an adult, I felt I had outgrown youth ministry. Worst of all I joined at a time when I was becoming a critic in the congregation. Have you had that experience? At first everything is amazing but with time and routine, we become critics. Whether it was worship or a sermon, I’d start nit-picking it and focusing negatively on it. There’s a hardness of heart that comes with routine and after only a year here, my heart was getting rigid.
I thought the calling to youth ministry was a strange one. Jesus knew I had no expertise or training. He knew I had no relationships with youth. And he knew I was developing a toxic attitude. But I was really impressed with graduation sunday a year ago. So much so that during the service I felt Jesus reminding me of how much he cared for the youth. I think that service is one of the most beautiful things we do all year. Jesus made his invitation to me there: “Will you join the Kingdom of God among the next generation?” So I started serving Friday nights.
At the first youth ministry meeting I hung in the back and didn’t introduce myself to many of the kids. I gained affection from a couple of them when I started teasing Brett. This is something we all bond over. It was remarkable after that how quickly they welcomed me into the group. They weren’t hospitable in the sense of a dinner party. But they were accepting and welcoming as people with no formal expectations.
One of the activities I remember was a game we played soon after moving into the new church building. A Sunday or two before, we had all prayed together to consecrate this space. We took a moment to thank God for bringing us to the new building. The youth ministry response was to now play games that took advantage of our huge new space. I developed a variation of tag one night and we were running all through the halls and rooms. I remember distinctly a moment toward the end. We were all in this room. There was laughter and there was joy amongst the youth. I felt in that moment from God that he was well pleased. And he explained that the joy and play of youth in our worship room was its own consecration. We adults consecrated it with solemn prayers but the youth consecrated it with play and joy. It was a beautiful moment.
With time I’ve started serving also on Sunday mornings. One morning Brett was telling a modern version of the prodigal son story. If you’re like me, you’ve heard the story dozens of times and the effect of the first hearing has long been lost. The kids, well, all of us, pretty quickly figured out the Bible’s parallel. But somewhere in the story telling my ears were opened and I was really listening to what it meant. It was an awkward moment to be choking back tears as youth were gladly exclaiming the title of the story.
In reflecting on that moment, I realized how service has softened my heart. It’s tempting to think as an adult that I have something to offer to the youth. But this is only half the story. Through the youth, by following Christ, I am being saved.