"I'm not made for youth ministry."
"I can't play the silly games."
"I don't know how to talk to kids."
These are excuses I've made since I was in high school about why I could never go into youth ministry full-time. Even at that age, I hated the egg-smashing, oreo-cream-smearing, gallon-of-milk-chugging, and gluttonous-junk-food-consuming thing that I thought youth ministry was. I said I wanted substance, which Todd Laws happily delivered in Friday morning Bible Studies at Starvin' Arvin's. Of course, part of the reason I didn't like the games was because I wasn't good at them, I was afraid of getting messy, and all my friends already thought I was a dork - why prove them right? So when people like Andrea Howard told me in high school that I should consider youth ministry, I laughed.
Now, though, I'm being forced to reconsider.
Last night I spent a couple hours hanging out with the youth group at Northmont. Two things happened. First, an example of a game I enjoyed: There is a hyper-active sixth-grader named Nick who goes to Northmont's youth group. He's constantly bouncing off the walls and maintains a perpetual sugar high by chugging Pepsi and eating candy. Last night, when he started hitting me in the head with a pillow, I jokingly whined to Sean, the youth minister, "Sean, Nick's picking on me." The response came back, "So, hit him." So I did. With a pillow of course. But it was hard enough to knock him over and we all, including Nick, busted up laughing. I did not know there were such simple pleasures in life.
Second, something of substance: Over our dinner of cheese pizza, Nick started complaining to me about the war in Iraq. Eventually he told me that he wanted to be Buddhist because he believes in peace. I told him Christians believe in peace, too - it's a lot of what Jesus taught. He responded with, "But W. doesn't believe in peace, and he says he's a Christian." Wow. There's a lesson in that for us to learn about the witness our supposedly Christian nation sends not just to other countries but to youth as well. But what I want to focus on is the depth of his words. This sixth grader is well-aware of world events, aware of other religions, aware of Christian hypocrisy. An hour later, the discussion of the whole boys small group (middle and high school) turned to the war in Iraq and the guys voiced opinions from every position on the spectrum. This conversation about the ethics of war, basic theology and missiology, and the connection between the teachings of Jesus and teachings about Jesus, was deeper than any interaction I've had with the adult members of the church.
When I met Eileen at Starbucks later, I was beaming. She smirked, knowing that I enjoyed my time with the youth group - a prospect that months ago had intimidated the crap out of me. God's doing a lot in my heart right now, and I've noticed it the most in the past couple days. It's going to be interesting to see what will happen through the rest of the year. My next interaction with the youth is the "Harvest Day" activity on Sunday - maybe I'll have more to share then. Praise God for the way His Spirit changes our hearts and transforms our lives.