As our church’s high school Sunday School teacher, I’ve been trying to plan monthly events for my class. We don’t have a youth group or a youth group leader, so I’m planning these events to build fellowship and promote outreach. One girl, our only senior, came to me at the beginning of the year and said, “This will be my last year and I want our youth group to be something special my last year. What can I do?” She’s been terrific about helping me plan events and doing some of the legwork I don’t have time for. Several parents have also been helpful in working with me. Yet it’s been a struggle to get the youth to tell me what they want to do.
One parent came to me and said we should take the kids out for lunch one Sunday afternoon. I told her I was thinking about leading the group in a service project. We would plan a worship service and visit a lady who recently moved into a retirement center too far away for her to come to church anymore. So, we could combine the two ideas; first go out to eat then travel on to visit our shut-in friend. The parent screwed up her face, “Oh I don’t think the kids will want to do that. They would rather go see a movie.”
Since I’m trying to get my youth to take the lead in planning activities, I posed the activity to them. I also posed another event, a chocolate cook-off, where ladies of the church would donate chocolate desserts, and the youth would taste and judge the desserts then spend the rest of the evening absorbing chocolate and playing games.
Their response surprised me. There was dead silence about the chocolate cook-off. Yet, there was quiet agreement about visiting our shut-in lady. “We could do that,” said the son of the parent who told me the kids wouldn’t be interested. “Don’t forget to get enough transportation for all of us,” said the shy boy among us. That was a problem for the last event. I asked various people to take responsibility for choosing songs, writing a devotion and praying aloud. All cautiously agreed.
We ate pizza then drove to our lady’s house. Our chosen song leader, on her own, had made up song sheets. Our devotion giver, the shy boy, gave one of the most thoughtful devotions for Communion I’ve ever heard. Our lady friend wept with joy. We all felt the beauty of sharing Holy Communion among a small circle of friends who shared our precious faith.
I went away learning a big lesson about leading youth. For so long, I’ve heard sentiments like what that parent voiced, that you have to plan what the kids are interested in. Yet I learned that sometimes, in youth ministry, you have to lead. You have to say, “Hey, let’s go this way. Let’s do this.” Then, the youth will follow, maybe reluctantly at first, but as they become involved, they’ll catch your excitement and passion. The event will turn out to be one they’ll cherish for years.
Actually, this is biblical. Acts 20;26 says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood.” Shepherds lead. Shepherds say to the flock, “Hey, let’s go this way.” If you want your youth group to mature in their faith, you have to direct them and lead them in the direction they need to go. If you only plan what they want to do, they will not make the initiative to grow on their own. They’ll choose what they like, what’s convenient, what’s “safe” and familiar. If you want them to grow, you need to nudge them out of their comfort zone and lead the way. Besides, once you lead, they just might surprise you with their interest and enthusiasm.
The chocolate cook-off? We did that too. Only five kids came but one was a visitor and she had a great time. We all ate too much chocolate and had a blast playing “Apples To Apples.” The ladies loved being included and there was a lot of talk among church people of what the youth group was doing. An adult bible study was meeting in the church at the same time as our chocolate party, and afterwards, two ladies quietly came and cleaned up the kitchen for me. Everyone just needed someone to lead.