I spent last weekend with the crew of Curtains Up! as it was our planning weekend for the upcoming camp. As usual, it was great to spend time with people who we know and love and the weekend was marked by the usual highlights of ridiculously late nights and probably illegal amounts of caffeine. No matter how much older I get, I never seem to learn the lesson of going to bed early.
We had a great time reading through the gospel of Mark as well as thinking through the book of James which we’ll be using for our study group material this year. The weekend got me all fired up and excited about getting back on camp and getting the opportunity to work alongside young people from various backgrounds.
And it’s backgrounds that really got me thinking this weekend. We have a number of people who having been on camp and now that they’re too old to continue, are joining the crew as leaders. I got chatting to them and a few of our other leaders who are still not that far away from their days as church youth and I was asking them about what their youth groups were like whilst growing up. Running a couple of groups myself, I was interested to hear how other groups functioned and what kind of things they did, as it’s always good to keep an ear to the ground and steal any good ideas.
What surprised me was the number of people who said they simply didn’t have a youth group as teenagers. Either their church didn’t really have any youth, or they had a handful whose ages were too varied to really form a productive group, or there just weren’t really the people to lead a group in any consistent fashion. Some had had some smattering of involvement in vague groups, but for most there was nothing solid in place. My follow up question was to ask “Then how did you survive? How did you keep going?”
There were a few ideas but no solid answer to the question. Somehow, people just did and they had come out the other side walking with God. And this got me thinking in a number of ways.
Firstly, I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a church that saw youth work as a priority and had the resources and the inclination to pay for a full time youth worker. Having grown up in that kind of atmosphere and then having gone into working for a church that offers the same kind of opportunities, I guess part of me just kind of assumed that most young Christians have those kind of opportunities. The truth is, they don’t. For a large majority of young Christians, their churches can’t afford to pay for someone to do youth work or they just don’t have a peer group of other young Christians around them to form any real group or community. If you have a youth worker, a youth group or quite frankly anyone willing to invest time in young people at your church, you are in the minority and you should be incredibly thankful.
Secondly, it made me realise just how much bigger God is than we give him credit for. I find it so easy to get stressed about our kids and our groups. Am I doing enough? Am I doing it well enough? What more can I be doing? This is where the real answer to the question “how did you keep going?” comes into play. Our leaders kept going as young people because God made them keep going. It was Him who got them through all the rough times and helped them to stay faithful. There is simply no other explanation. So why am I getting stressed about our kids? If God can keep people walking with him with barely any support or input appropriate to their age, then he can certainly keep safe those who are being fed, encouraged and built up on a regular basis.
It’s so easy to get caught up on programmes and how everyone’s doing and start stressing about it. But God is bigger than all our programmes and all the things the world has to throw at our kids and if he wants to keep them going, He will. That doesn’t mean we should stop working with our kids and putting in the hard grind, but it does mean that we need to keep in perspective the fact that God is ultimately behind the work and it’s him that draws people to himself, not us.
If you have an established youth work in your church, you’ve probably got kids who are encouragements and kids where you wonder whether anything is going in at all. But if God can keep people going with basically no input at all, take heart that even those who appear to be rejecting the message are getting more input than some people who’ve gone on to become strong Christians. Nothing is impossible with God and we can’t know what seeds are being sown.
Our God is a great big God.