I’ve been working as a middle-school youth group leader for three years now, actually I should say 3.6 years – because that .6 counts. Every moment counts.
I have to remind myself that every moment counts, because, sometimes, I grow weary of the endless volunteering of my time. I’ll be honest, I’ve considered leaving a time or two. But the awful truth is, this is the best way I feel I can serve in my church – as I dread doing something else like filling communion cups… Communion trays are NOT my gift.
So, middle-school, junior high, I love it, but…
I get burnt out; I start thinking my presence makes no difference. I get frustrated at trying to lead a small group of vibrant young girls who can giggle and chat the small group time away, without bothering to mention God once. I’ve wanted to get up and walk away during group, because I could just as easily not be there. Sure there are great amazing nights with focused discussion, but for the most part middle-school kids don’t have the respect thing down yet; they aren’t quite ready to focus. And I get that. And it makes me love them that much more. Quirky, disrespectful, awkward, awesome, exhausting, and inspirational.
So this one particular night, I was done with a capital D. I didn’t want to go, I considered not showing up, but none-the-less I dragged myself to youth group. And I will never forget that night. Because it was a night that one of the girls in my group decided it was time for her to be a Christian. The moment and my thoughts of that time are still fresh. She asked me during the worship music time (which is a bit of a alt-punk-grunge-pop concert) “will you help me get saved?” I had to ask her to repeat what she said, because I couldn’t hear her over the band. And once I understood what she said, I replied with a big smile, “Yes!”.
Then my mind started to race. I couldn’t remember all the steps – you know “Romans Road” – I don’t like that type of routine and it makes it feel harder than it really is. But I really thought – I can’t help her get saved. I don’t know what to do to help her “get saved”, that’s what God does, and besides – I didn’t think she really meant it.
See, I knew why she wanted to be saved. She had been working me over with questions for two months about salvation and heaven – but more importantly, hell. This is because the youth pastor recently let the kids know that if they aren’t Christians going to heaven then “they are going to hell.” Ah, I remember those scare tactics from my youth days decades ago; all youth pastors, throughout all of time, do this. That night freaked my girls out about hell. That’s when the questions began. That was the night I was challenged with what my heart felt was the right way to respond to an un-saved 12-year-old girl about heaven and hell, and about what happens to her family of a different faith, and why really good moral people who aren’t Christians go to hell. I didn’t like it. Not one bit. As I answered the groups questions, I stuck with my Sunday-School taught truth about heaven and hell, but approached it with a softer candy-coated-salt version; not veering from the truth and hoping that she wouldn’t be scared to go to sleep that night. I told her to ask me questions any time, anywhere. I gave her my email address, cell phone, and we became social-network “friends”.
It’s possible I failed as a youth group leader that night, because I didn’t push for and ask her if she wanted fire insurance salvation that night.
There is a lot more story between that night of “hell” and the night of her salvation. But I want to tell you a gut-wrenching truth; while I was happy she asked me to “help her get saved”, I also thought, “child, you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re becoming a Christian for the purpose of fire-insurance, and I shouldn’t be a part of this”. I was conflicted. I knew what I needed to do when small group time came, but I was conflicted in doing it. After she asked for my help, and while the worship band rocked on, my ears deafened the noise as a little voice pulled me into focus and reminded me with candy-coated-salt by saying, “this is how it starts with Me, just roll with this, everyone has to start somewhere, you help her and I’ll take over from there.” And that voice was right. Who am I to judge if anyone is ready to become a Christian. None of us get it right all the time; many of us have it wrong most of the time. But we just have to start. Somewhere.
After I “helped her get saved” (which seems really weird, because I’m not one ounce worthy of this privilege, and she really could have done this on her own – just didn’t know she could have – I was not needed) I felt happy. She was happy. And all I could say was “welcome to the club!” Some very special things happened right after she accepted Jesus as her ticket to heaven; a cloud formed in the sky and it looked like “God’s face”. She honestly thought it was God looking at her from heaven. And that is a middle-school mind, and you know what – it’s kinda awesome. To have that wonder and belief and innocence; to receive the kingdom of heaven like a child (Luke 18:17).