Youth Group: Past, Present, & Future

23 May 2013

     So last night was youth group, better known as Journey Live. I have been going to Journey Live and helping out (of sorts) since the fall. When I say helping out it generally means that i've helped to hold the peace, add a comment in here or there, and cook when needed. I have not had to step into the role of actually leading youth group or taking a more proactive leadership role. I have mainly gotten to work on getting to know the teens and connect with them. This whole sorta backseat role i've been occupying this year is going to get bumped up several levels in the next couple weeks. As a part of doing summer missions team (a post will be coming about mission team and the upcoming summer soon) everyone on team will be split up to focus on certain areas of ministry. I will be staying with the teens. However, me and the other one to two people who will be working with the teens will pretty much be in charge of leading all of the activities and small group interactions this summer. This really hit me tonight both during youth group and after in conversations with the teens and fellow adult leaders. I was informed by my pastor of something that I already knew about and have been working on, but sometimes feel like i'm getting nowhere. I need to speak up during small group interactions and Bible lessons. I have been trying to work on this but feel like I get stuck or as soon as I start moving forward I get pushed back again. You may be asking why I even have to work on this to begin with? Well I have an answer for you. Just give me some time to explain...

Youth group was not a pleasant experience for me for the most part. I found it to be one of the places where I actually got torn down and pushed away more than I was lifted up and welcomed. It really ended up shaping me into the person that I am today and that is not entirely a positive thing. Growing up I was pretty talkative, especially once I got to know someone and was comfortable, and this trait followed me into middle school. I went into youth group fairly outgoing since I knew most everyone and I was not afraid to talk and share my thoughts. This lasted for about the first year, so through 7th grade. During that year and the year that followed I really got a lot of negative remarks coming from those in my youth group. I quite frequently heard it said that no one cared what I had to say and no one wanted to hear my thoughts or my feelings. I was pretty much told that I needed to stop talking because no one wanted to hear what I had to say. This really tore me apart and by the time I hit freshman year of high school I rarely talked during youth group, especially during our Bible lesson. Due to other circumstances, this new found habit of not talking became the only way to survive. It didn't help that my mom was in a youth pastor position and my grandpa was the pastor of the church. This meant that everyone expected my life to be perfect. Little known fact: being a PK doesn't mean your life is perfect and you never mess up. We mess up on a daily basis just like everyone else. But I wasn't allowed to share this with people because I was instantly judged and it immediately looked bad on my family. By the time junior and senior year came around I was only going to youth group once or twice a month, if that. There were times I wouldn't go for two to three months at a time. I didn't like being there and with family circumstances it was easy to come up with reasons not to go.

Now that I am a part of a youth group and in a leadership position, I am forced to look back at my youth group experience and see what went wrong and try to keep those things from happening in this youth group.

When you think of a youth group, specifically a healthy youth group that has a regular group of attendees and is growing, you think of a place where students can come and feel welcome. They can come into youth group and feel like they are safe. They should feel like they can share what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing without being judged. They should be shown God's love by their peers and those that are leading the group. We often think of many of the things that are shown in the image below...

     These things were apart of my youth group at various times but never at the same time. Transitioning from having real youth pastors to having people just fill a rotation schedule so someone was always with us made this hard as well. We never felt like anyone actually wanted to be with us. The new youth pastor they have now doesn't even want to be there. The things in this image are what I longed to have on a regular basis in youth group, but I never got them. These things are also the very things that I want the teens in Journey Live to experience on a regular basis. I want them to come in and feel the presence of strong, positive leadership, a sense of connection and openness with one another, and feel that they are accepted in the group no matter who they are, what they have done, or where they are in the lives.

I want the teens to have that amazing youth group experience that I wish I had had. I hear stories from friends at college about their youth groups and in all honesty I get jealous. Their groups always sound like they were the best! I really want to be a part of making Journey Live that kind of a group/place for these students. I want them to be able to look back on it when they grow up and have positive memories from it. I felt a little like a dork because I was thinking about this on my drive home after youth group and I started tearing up because I just feel so strongly about this issue. These students deserve the best that we can give them and I really want to give that to them! I just need to remember that part of giving that to them is getting past the negative impact of my youth group experiences. It probably won't be easy, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

I am looking forward to the challenges that working with these students this summer will present, as well as the many, many, many wonderful and amazing moments and memories that will come about!! They are such an awesome group of students and I pray that I will be able to provide what they need this summer alongside my fellow mission team members and adult leaders from church. I have no doubt that this summer will be an awesome season of growth for these students, as well as those of us working with them. It may not be in the numbers of students attending, but it will no doubt be in the hearts and lives of the students. I am excited to see the students grow and change in their faith!! It will no doubt be a summer to remember!!

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