Monday, February 8, 2010

What if each Teenager had 5 Caring Adults?

The older I get, the more I understand...or at least appreciate God's faithfulness. When I started in youth ministry sixteen years ago, I had no idea how much I would be shaped by the students. In fact, when I started, I didn't know much of anything. I knew I loved God, I knew God loved me, and I knew I wanted students to have some of the same experiences I had in youth group.

When I was in youth group, I must admit, I was a nominal participant at best. I didn't take scripture too seriously. I thought Sunday School was boring. I said, "Yes" at the end of Confirmation Classes because I didn't want to look stupid. In fact, I thought the best part about church on Sunday mornings was going out to lunch afterward. No one would have looked at me or my life and thought, "She's going to be in ministry one day." I've talked a lot about pointing out ministry gifts in students, and we definitely need to do that. However, we need to be sure to leave room for God to work on that too.

The one thing I loved about Youth Group was the opportunity to travel. I love to travel. When I was in high school I went on a church ski trip to Colorado, and I went on a Mission Trip to Kentucky. That was fun. I also remember we did a Spaghetti Supper and Gong Show as a fund-raiser. I liked that too. I don't remember either of them being particularly Spiritual, or my life being transformed, or my heart strangely warmed. I do remember feeling loved and valued--and feeling like I belonged.

Last month, I went to Perkins School of Youth Ministry in Dallas, and I was in a class lead by Bishop Richard Wilke. Bishop Wilke wrote the Disciple Bible Study series--a Bible study that truly changed my life. When I signed up for the class, I did not know who he was, and I had no idea that hearing him unpack the scriptures would be so powerful. It was an experience I won't soon forget, and one that I have thought about again and again. He asked us (a room full of student ministers) who mentored us--who were the disciples who made us disciples? Then, he asked us what made those people important. Most often, the answer was "time." An investment of time from loving, caring adults, made all the difference in our lives.

I have been so blessed by all of the students God has placed in my life. So many of my "kids" are now adults--some married, some with children, some teachers, some musicians, some in grad school, some computer techs, some serving in ministry also. It is so hard to describe the truly overwhelming sense of joy to still be able to share in their lives. There is not a week that goes by when I don't communicate in some way with students who have become adults.

Last month, at the conference in Dallas, I got to room with one such young person. I met Kelly when she was 14 and serving on CCYM. (The Conference Council on Youth Ministries for the United Methodist Church of Missouri) She was from Lee's Summit, and an all around super cool kid. :o) You know that feeling--when you sometimes just instantly like someone, but you don't really know why. Well, Kelly Mustoe is one of those people. I called her "Mustoefunk" (still do). Kelly graduated from college last year, and is now serving in Student Ministry in Kansas City. That was not her plan. Yet, God called, and she answered. Last Sunday was youth Sunday at her church, and she preached her first sermon. She sent me a copy, and I was moved to tears. Here's her sermon:

"My church journey started pretty much at birth because my father is a pastor. I used to think that defined my life and defined who I was as a person.I grew up in the church and was always very active within the church. I went to youth group and Sunday school every week. I went on every youth trip and loved going to church camp. But, the part of youth ministry that affected my life the most was the countless adults investing their time and energy mentoring me and being an active part of my life.

"As I began my work here, I tried to identify goals for this youth ministry. I asked myself a list of questions: What do these students need? What can St. John’s offer them? Do we, as a church have the strength and passion to have an effective student ministry? I believe the answer is YES!

"Two weeks ago, Doug and I took a group of students to a youth rally in Springfield. There were 2500 other Methodist youth there. When we arrived at the event, I was busy getting our name tags, filling out forms and checking in. As we got situated and began walking around the conference center, I started seeing faces from my past. My boss from Camp Galilee instantly embraced me with a hug and a big smile. He couldn’t wait to hear about what I had been doing. I talked to Bev, my old youth coordinator, who helped me find my leadership potential. I talked to Andre and Dana, who directed a camp that I counseled at. My former youth leader was there. I caught up with him. Kendra was also there, who has been my mentor since I was 14 years old and continues to mentor me today.

"I kept seeing these wonderful adults that have helped shape me into who I am today. And it hit me: Those adults are the reason that I am in ministry today. They cared about me and poured themselves into me. They loved me. They believed in me when I didn’t. They took the time to form a lasting relationship with me. They truly mentored me. Without those adults and the time they spent with me, I would not be the person I am today. I may not even be a follower of Jesus. There is a common thread that ties all of my mentors together so listen carefully: My mentors had their own mentors and in turn, they mentored me. Because someone invested in them, they invested in me. And because they invested in me, I am trying to mentor the students at this church. What a beautiful cycle. What a beautiful story. Think of all the lives that have been changed and saved because of caring adults! Think back on your own life. Who mentored you? What adult choose to spend time with you, invest in you?

"Let’s look back at our scripture readings for today: In Timothy, we read that no one should look down on anyone because they are young. Our students are to be an example to other believers in speech, thought, behavior and love. What a powerful calling for youth. God calls them to be leaders in the church. Yet, how often do we think of youth as leaders in the church or see youth as leaders in the church? We read in Jeremiah that God has plans for each and every one of us, to give us hope and to give us a future. So, let’s ask ourselves another question: What is God’s plan for this youth group, for all of the children and youth at St. John’s? How can we, as a congregation help foster and nurture their relationship with God? What is our role?

"Contrary to popular belief, simply providing teenagers with pizza and “supervising them” doesn’t do much for their spiritual growth. Having the “right” curriculum isn’t going to get them to fall in love with Jesus. There is no perfect curriculum and there is no perfect youth pastor who can single-handedly transform the youth program into a life changing experience. Youth need caring adults in their life. No one was meant to do youth ministry alone. Timothy and Jeremiah are inspiring. I think a lot of the time, teenagers often hear, “just say no to sex, drugs and alcohol “and that’s about it... Of course, they should stay away from sex, drugs and alcohol but, what if we conveyed this message in a different manner? What if, instead of putting our focus on saying no to all the bad things in life, we told our students to say YES to a lasting marriage, YES to a family, education, service, a healthy lifestyle and say YES to their talents and gifts? What if they heard what they should do instead of what they shouldn’t do? What if they heard that they are to be an example to the rest of us instead of the exception? What if we told them to say YES to God’s plan for them and then helped them figure out what God’s plan is for their life? That would be mentoring at its best, which is a crucial part of effective youth ministry!

"Our youth don’t need another “cool” person in their life. They need someone who is authentic and someone who is real. They don’t need you to speak their language or know who the Black Eyed Peas are. They simply need people who genuinely care about them with no strings attached.

"Let’s imagine a scene for a second: Imagine walking into St. John’s on a Sunday morning and observing. What would we see? Now, imagine this: What if each youth had at least 5 people who knew their name and knew what position they played in football or how they did in their swim meet or recital? Imagine if our youth had at least 5 adults that knew what their school day was like and what subjects they struggled in. Imagine if each youth had adults that took them out for coffee and spent their Sunday evening in the youth room, being present during youth group? Now picture this: The teenager that you spent hours with and invested in grew up. This same teenager continued to have a strong and vibrant relationship with Christ because you showed them what it meant to live like Jesus. What if the teenager you spent time with went into ministry or was a missionary because you helped them realize God’s calling in their life? Do you see where I’m going here? Adults have so much influence over children and teenagers.

"If you’ll turn with me to the bulletin insert, there is a list of opportunities to volunteer within our youth ministry. I invite you to take this list home and prayerfully consider where you see yourself. These opportunities all take different gifts and talents. There are so many ways that you can support our youth. How do you see yourself being involved?

"I leave you with these thoughts: Our youth are the church of today AND the church of tomorrow. Youth need to know that they are valued and recognized in the life of the church. Students need to know that other adults beside their parents care about them. How can we help to form these students into who they will become? How can we change their lives? Will you be a mentor?"

Good questions, right? What if...