catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 19 :: 2009.10.02 — 2009.10.15


The permanence of youth group

As a 12-year-old, it was a friend from school, who apparently went to the same church as I, who had to drag me to my first night of youth group. I think it exemplifies how ill-connected I was to church as a young boy.

Skip ahead six years.  At 18, I made the decision to leave my church and hometown to embark on a big journey. I was moving far away from home and would not be back for at least a year or two. Being a young male, I wasn’t really expecting the sadness and hurt that I felt as I left this community I had found in my local church and youth group. I remember distinctly the deep bond and encouragement I felt one of my last nights before my departure. As I shared my doubts, fears and hopes with three of my friends and a youth elder from my church I received in return words of encouragement and prayers that sustained me as I moved away.

What happened in the six years that I zealously attended youth group, and even became convinced to form a small group with three close friends and a forty-something year old youth elder? Simply put, I needed something to hold onto during those tumultuous times — something more permanent than things around me.  Within those six years, I was faced with decisions about thousands of cultural impulses, hundreds of new experiences, and dozens of life changing situations. I, like every other young person, had to fit this into my view of the world somehow. My commitment and regular attendance was mostly a result of needing a place where I could try to answer some questions that school, friends or family just couldn’t answer.

Those six years of attending youth group and church events included several challenges, challenges which I am not the only one to have experienced.  To name some, I dealt with the passing away of immediate family members; the pressure of social groups, party culture, and depression. I might be making simple presumptions by saying that without my youth group and youth leaders I would have made very different choices and would not have ended up where I am now. However, it is fair to recognize the importance that youth group and the youth ministry of my church had had in my life when it was being turned upside down, shaken around and needed direction.

In fact, by most means and standards the youth ministry in my church was not supposed to succeed. Every year we had a huge turnover in the teenagers who attended, there were (too) many leadership changes and we surely didn’t have the budget to host any spectacular events. Yet, it was the permanence and stability of the relationships youth group offered that kept me coming back. It was a place where stories could be heard and told, regardless of their validity or stupidity.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I am now employed as the leader of a youth group. My group is very different than the group that I was a part of as a teenager, but I can’t help seeing the similarities: the pressures from dominant culture and friends, the hurt, the questions, the uncertainty of where life will be a few years down the road. Today, I need a daily reminder of what is it that I need to convey, what made me come back again and again as a teenager.  It wasn’t just the games and crazy activities. It was a place where I found stability, the sense that I was part of something bigger, like I was part of a large story. More than anything else it was the permanence of place that made my youth group stand out and kept me coming back. Youth group had become a place where the Truth was spoken; relationships were built; and where some of the pressures of growing up could be shed, even if it was temporary — just one night a week. It was a place where Christ was permanent, even while we were playing sardines in the church building.

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