I was just reading something about the future of youth ministry in the church, and it made me think about what the things were that made a difference for me as a young person growing up in her faith:
1. Christian Camp:
All of the “Jesus Camp” press aside, I was deeply affected as a young person by Christian camp and retreat experiences. Goofy games, cute boys, horses and snowmobiles were fun, but it was the passion of the camp pastors and speakers, the love from my counselors, and the study and prayer with my peers that made these annual events so unforgettable. There was something special about being away from my parents, my school, and even my church, and encountering God apart from those things, that gave new depth to them when I returned.
2. Bible Study
After summer camp one year, my best friend and I decided that we needed to start studying our Bibles regularly. We asked a lady in our church if she would help us. Every Tuesday after school we would go to her house for Bible study. We studied James. We studied Revelation. She honored our questions and desires and did her best to guide us. Most importantly, she was faithful, consistent, and committed. She cared about us and we knew it. That experience was transformative for me in my relationship with scripture. I was in the fifth grade.
3. Scripture Memorization
I still remember the first verses I ever memorized: Philippians 2:3; Matthew 5:16; Psalm 23. Bookmarks, church contests, even a ruler that had all the books of the Bible on the back: all of these things I might think “cheesy” now, helped me to write God’s word on my heart.
The example of how my parents treated others, gave hospitality, lived with joy, and loved so many different kinds of people, gave me real-life illustrations for how a follower of Jesus is supposed to live.
I grew up without any youth staff paid to love or program me. I was one of four students in confirmation, one of four students in our junior high youth group when it began. There was a crew of caring adults, young and old, who shared leadership in ministering to our unique needs. There were young marrieds and singles who let us laugh over the “Sex and the Whole Person” columns in the Campus Life Magazines in the youth room; there was the college professor who took us through the entire book of Acts in Sunday School; there was the couple who formed a performing group that gave us our first taste of outreach and evangelism; there was the couple who taught us how to love and serve the homeless. These are the same people who came to my graduation and my wedding, who still pray weekly for me in prayer groups, and who send baby gifts, grocery cards and ministry donations. These people are still my family.
I was fortunate to have friends who were Christians that I could talk to and struggle with, pray with and confess to; friends who cared about glorifying God with their decisions, their relationships and their lives. We screwed up a lot, made dumb choices, hurt each other and acted selfishly, but we stayed yoked together then and now, united by something that was bigger than the dramas of junior high and high school, marriage and babies, and moves across country.
7. Real World Experience
My parents and my church never tried to create a bubble of safety or comfort to contain me. I was encouraged to travel, to experience culture through art and drama, to see movies and read books and talk about them, to relate to people who were very different, and to see the world beyond myself as something to be engaged and not to be feared.