Every week I am amazed that teenagers choose to spend their Thursday night at a church. With all the distractions they have, literally, at their fingertips, 60-80 high school students stop what they are doing, and come to youth group to hang out, play some games, sing some worship songs, and hear a message. If no one showed up one week, I would be like, “That doesn’t surprise me.”
Church was the last place I would have gone to hang out when I was in high school. I would have much rather preferred to stand in someone’s front yard while we all asked each other, “What do you want to do tonight?”
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” And then head home a few hours later having done nothing.
What is even more amazing is who these kids are. Sure, we have a small group of ‘church’ kids who show up every week. They are the ones that run up to the stage when it’s time to sing. They are the ones that lift their hands high and know all the words to the songs. They are the ones who get upset when people talk during the message because they are there for a specific purpose. They want to connect with God and learn something, or experience something, that will bring them closer to Him.
And then there is everyone else.
I don’t know why they come. And I don’t think they know why they come. Maybe it is to get out of the house for a few hours on a Thursday night. Maybe it is because there is a cute boy or girl that they heard might be there that week. I don’t know. The last thing that it seems like they are there for though is God.
These are the kids that get high before school every day. These are the kids that get busted with drugs. These are the kids that get expelled because they didn’t go to their drug prevention classes. These are the kids who get in fights for fun. These are the kids who skip school and end up in juvenile detention centers. These are the pill poppers, drug dealers, and teenage alcoholics. These are the mad, hardened, promiscuous, lonely, forgotten, abused, hurt, sad teenagers of our time.
Their teachers have written them off. Many of them don’t see their parents but a few times a week in passing, if they live with them at all. They are on their own to find food each day. They generally need a ride home from one of us leaders, or from a friend who has a car. They yell out to get attention. They cuss to be heard. They fight to be noticed. They cut to feel something. And they self-medicate to feel nothing.
It’s hard not to fall in line with the rest of society and push these kids away. It was one of the biggest shocks I received when I first started doing youth ministry. I was expecting a bunch of upper-middle class church kids and instead I met these kids. Blake had such a big heart for them. He wanted to help them all, and God equipped him to do that at the proper time. More often than not is was just the fact the there was a place they could go to get away from their normal life, hear some truths about God, and hang out with friends. But some of those kids chose to go deeper; to question Blake, and to listen to God speak through him to them. It was amazing to watch. And because of that, I now feel a burden to do something for these kids. I don’t know what it is yet. As of right now, some of them at least know I am here to listen to them, to not judge them or try to change them, but to really listen to what they have to say because there aren’t too many people that will.
But it is hard.
Sometimes I stand back and watch them interact with each other and it makes me want to either laugh or cry. I laugh at their stupidity. And I want to cry because I can see how they are trying to find acceptance, to feel wanted, and to find someone who will affirm them. I wish I knew how to give them that.
Over the next several months I am setting my sights on finding new ways to let them know that I am here for them. I need to set aside my weekly expectations of how I see Thursday night going and put myself in more uncomfortable situations where I have to interact with those hard to reach kids. I need to…I don’t know. But I need to do something! We have an abundance of students and not enough leaders who care enough to really dive into these kids’ lives and try to make a difference. So my prayer is that God gives me the opportunity to do that, and the courage to go along with it.
I guess they come back every week because something inside them tells them that they need to be there. They may not understand it, or even consciously acknowledge it, but for some reason (God) they are compelled to be there. And, because of that, we need to be ready for them, or trust that God will ready us for them.
What can you do to help improve the lives of the youth in your life?