I watch the high school musical with three of our youth in it in awe.
The youth (they all just have bit parts) have talked about how demanding the new director is, and it shows. The musical is being performed at a level of excellence far above previous years. I find my thoughts sliding towards bitterness: Why are these youth willing to commit so deeply to a musical, and their commitment to youth group remains so shallow?
I’m having coffee with a college student who is a year or so out of our youth group, and she says, “I liked our youth group because the adults were truly interested in me. We could be honest in what we were saying—that was okay in our group.”
I am amazed.
Our group is sitting in a circle in the sanctuary of a church in NE Nebraska. This has been our home for the week we’ve worked on an MDS house during our summer mission trip. During this week we have worked together, played together, eaten together, worshiped together. As we share about the week, I have a deep sense of being a part of one small community of God’s kingdom. I am experiencing God’s kingdom come, God’s will being done.
And this seems to happen every summer on these trips.
Sunday evening Bible Study has, in its history, often had 50-75% of our youth group participate. This past spring we have sometimes only had two out of a possible fifteen.
The question creeps into the back of my mind: is it worth the effort of preparing?
It has been interesting to reflect on these happenings, and my responses to them, through the lens of what Chap Clark calls “abandonment”. (I finally got around to reading Hurt last year—I’m only about a decade behind the times.) Clark observes that youth live in a world where everyone demands something from them: “Do your best!” “Give 110%!” “If you’re not at practice, you won’t play!” The message that is communicated—whether by teachers, parents, youth leaders—is that your value is in your performance. Essentially, the youth observe that they are being used to advance the ends of the adults. They have been abandoned. In response, the youth do whatever it takes to get along, but only reveal their true selves with their peers (if there). I think there’s a lot of truth in this.
Our faith, our theology, tells us that our value is found not in what we do but in who we are, and whose we are. We believe that when God made humanity, God said that we are good. Not only that, we are created in God’s own image. God loves us as we are. God loves us so much that God will not leave us in the brokenness sin has caused, but takes the initiative to reconcile us to himself, to each other, to all of creation.
If ever there was truth to speak as a corrective for abandonment, surely this is it: you are loved by God, deeply, recklessly, relentlessly. And in our community we will try to follow God’s example.
So… How do I respond? How do we as youth leaders at First Menno in Newton KS respond?
- Can I/we help create opportunities for our youth to encounter God and God’s love—in worship, in experiencing life together as brothers and sisters in Christ, in becoming the pipes through which God’s love flows to others?
- Can I encourage opportunities to create a little bit of disequilibrium where the status quo of abandonment is questioned and God’s love for them and for their world has a chance to get through?
- Can I be attentive to how I relate to individual youth? Can I see them as God sees them—beloved sons and daughters?
- Can I show our youth how much I value them, whether they excel, pass, or fail at what they are doing? Can I find ways to invite them to “do all you do in the name of the Father”, so that all of life can become worship?
- Can we foster a community of brothers and sisters in Christ, a safe place for you regardless of where you are in your journey?
What are the other questions I/we need to be asking?
Dwight Regier and Janet live and farm east of Newton, KS. They have three grown children, one (going on two) children-in-law, and the cutest grandson on either side of the Nile. They have been high school youth sponsors at First Mennonite, Newton for most of the time since the late 1980’s. Dwight works very part-time as Network Team Leader for Western District and South Central Conferences of MCUSA. (That means he gets to hang out with and provide pastoral care for a group of really impressive youth pastors/ministers in south-central Kansas.)