Thursday, May 28, 2015

Working With Teenagers: Redeeming My Own Lost Moments

Every Wednesday night you can find me at the same place. Behind a bar.

Not that kind of bar....this one is called the Crow Bar. It was built with the intention of being a place teenagers could go to find resources to help them grow in their faith.

Most of the time I spend talking with students, asking them how their meet was the weekend before. How did they end up doing on that test? That girl that drug you along for awhile, where are you at with her? I'll point them to a new book we have about how to deal with their crazy parents, or a cool new Bible Study tool and force them to sign up for cool trips. And more often than not I'm giving someone a hard time of the ridiculous word they played to beat me in Words with Friends.

Basically I'm hanging out with teenagers and calling it volunteer "work" (best gig ever)

I've always loved teenagers- shoot, when I was in high school and youth group sucked for me...I found myself serving in the Middle School area (that by the way has never happened since...God Bless you if you are called to middle school ministry.

When I was a young married woman, I hosted several different small groups in my home with giggling teenage girls who wanted to pretty much only talk about boys and sex and their Mom's were happy that I obliged.

I love me some teenage girls. Unless it's in a 15 hour van ride, and then you will find me with the teenage boys were are surprisingly more quiet and don't smell near as bad as you would imagine (or I have become immune because I am raising three boys of my own).

I love the" church since birth teens" and the "always in a crisis teens", the "obnoxious just want some attention teens" and the" quiet nose in the book teens".

I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to join us on a Wednesday night, it's the most fun place on our church campus, and if you don't mind the occasional ball flying across the room and hitting you in the're going to have a blast.

I'm kind of surprised I ended up here to be honest. Working along side other youth leaders, with teenagers. I didn't have a great youth group experience. In fact, if I think on it hard enough, I can still feel the wounds.

Surprisingly, it wasn't the teenagers who wounded me the most, although they did their fair share because- teenagers.

I went to a small Christian High School, and I loved it. I was friends with nearly everyone, All-Star volleyball player who had the ability to make even the teachers let me get away with stuff. I kinda felt like I had it all at my fingertips, I was a class clown, but I got good grades (minus math...who needs math) I hung out with people from every group there was and I still had my solid friends who stuck by me no matter what. I got lead in the play my Freshman year, my junior year my best friend and I beat out the Seniors to win Commissioners of Activities and I was elected VP my Senior Year ( I did end up giving that up because I was working at a coffee shop and that was way cooler and paid real money).

Basically- I had it made, at school....

Church was a whole different story. For some reason, ever since we moved from Eugene when I was about 10 I never quite plugged in. I'm not sure if it was because everyone else there had known each other since diapers, or because I was pretty much the only one that didn't go to school where they rest of them went or if I had some stench that only showed up at church. Bottom sucked.

I have a few decent memories of the grade school years, but more often than not they are sandwiched by some pretty awful ones, and they all include the same people.

When High School rolled around and living was good during the day, I sort of assumed that things would be better at church, and instead they got worse.

During my youth group years I had three different Youth Pastors. That right there sucked, and I know it probably contributed to a lot. Different visions, different personalities and different philosophies on culture within youth group.

I would have come off a great day at school, and awesome practice on the court and then head to church on Wednesday night for youth group.

I was hardly spoken to. By anyone. Forgive me, but even the nerdy kids didn't give me the time of day. I was an outcast among outcasts coming from a day where I had floated around the school with all of my different "peeps".

The worst part is, even the youth workers ignored me. I was pretty good at hiding how I was feeling, flashing dimples usually puts people at ease. Unfortunately, no one seemed to care enough to actually ask. I have a vivid memory of begging my Mom to not take me to youth group. No one liked me, it would be awful. She asked me to try...maybe just once more, and so I did.

Twenty minutes later I was on the phone in the lobby, in tears asking her to come get me because I had been completely ignored, not even an acknowledgment that I was present in the room (this was at a time with our group was pretty darn small too) by both youth staff and my fellow students.

More often than not, the youth leaders just stood around talking to one another instead of engaging with students. Weren't they supposed to be there for us?

 That's when my parents decided to stop asking me to go every week and instead encouraged me to plug in somewhere to serve.

This was before the "sticky faith" buzz word was around, and my parents already had it on lock-down. I started working with the Middle School group and occasionally the little kids. I also went with my friends to another youth group, where I could go and learn and hang out with kids my age and feel included, and visible.

I credit my parents a lot. They could have done a million different things, and yet they encuoraged me to serve and supported me. They didn't go holding meetings and bash sessions with other adults or parents, we didn't leave our church in a huff. I think that's one main reason I didn't just up and leave the church all together.

So many do. So many head to church seeking a place of safety and understanding and instead are met with a cold shoulder. They never step back in a church again, or if they do it's years later with a lot of baggage given to them by other "Jesus followers".

I'm pretty sure that's one reason I find myself behind the bar every week. I know there are kids coming that look pretty awesome on the outside, but no one really knows how they are feeling inside. I try and say hi to everyone. These teenagers, there is so much more there than meets the eye. I see potential, and opportunity and honestly, they bless my socks off. Plus, since I know God is in the business of redeeming, I'm pretty sure I'm living out those redeemed moments week in and week out.

I try and make sure that I'm not caught up talking to other youth workers. I love ya'll, but if I'm talking to you then I can't be talking with a student. I can catch up with you another time, but when I'm here, I'm on and guess what? Students notice.

It's that saying, "wherever you all there".  If you're at the table eating dinner with your family, be there instead of on your phone. If you're working with kids, be with the kids. If you're working with teenagers, be with the teenagers.

There are a few that did this well back when I was in High School. One ended up being a mentor to me, and the other remains one of the most influential people in my life to this day.
I haven't held grudges all these years, but I have not forgotten the way I was made to feel.

That's the thing isn't it? It's not how we intend to come across, or how we perceive ourselves to be engaging or communicating. It's about how make others feel. If I am focused on making others feel included and loved, then I will show that in the way I engage and interact.

I don't remember one thing any of my youth pastors or youth leaders said to me. Not one word.

But I do remember how they made me feel.....that part lasts forever.


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