When I was high school, I didn’t have the best grades and I wasn’t convinced I’d do well in college or university. Most of my friends were going off to big careers.
I had all but given up on doing something significant with my life, and I was ready to just settle into finding a job I could survive off of. I had dreams of being a writer, or maybe working in something creative like advertising, but I know those aren’t always the most stable of career choices. I felt aimless and lonely.
I wanted to do something cool with my life – I just didn’t know what that would look like.
One day, I was complaining about my state of affairs with my youth pastor, Jeff. Over our Wendy’s hamburgers and Frosties, Jeff asked me what I wanted to do after high school. A few months before, another one of our youth leaders, Becky, mentioned casually to me that I should be a youth pastor like Jeff.
At this point, I had only been exploring Christianity for a few months and while I was pretty excited about where these questions were taking me, I was less than convinced of Becky’s idea. Jeff was a fun, outgoing party animal, the kind of guy that teenagers are magnetically drawn to. I was (and still am in many ways) a shy and introverted guy much more likely to find joy in a good book.
As he stared at me over the top of those red fast food cups, I had no answer. Playing with my food, I rambled a bit hoping to find something coherent to say. I said something about loving that his job was about big ideas and helping people, and that I wanted to do something like that, but I wasn’t sure I had the personality for it. Jeff laughed and said that he understood. He said that Jesus worked with a bunch of uneducated fishermen, so my shyness wasn’t going to be a deal breaker either.
Then he told me I should be a Jr. High small group leader and maybe intern with him for my co-op class at school. I choked on my burger.
A couple of weeks later, he called me and started talking like I had said yes. I don’t remember if I did or not, but that was Jeff’s way.
You were a ‘yes’ to him until you told him ‘no’, and even then he’d convince you that you were wrong.
So I became a small group leader for a bunch of Jr. High boys. I tried to mimic Jeff, asking them about skateboarding or if there were girls that they liked. Mostly we just fumbled our way through a book of the Bible, asking questions about how it applied to our lives. The Jr. Highs either stared at the floor, or fell asleep.
Besides launching me into the crazy and wonder-filled world of church work, leading that small group convinced me of one critical thing: growth comes from helping other people.
As a teenager, I was hyper-focused on myself. Most teenagers are – and they’re supposed to be. Their job is to learn about who they are, so they can know where God is leading them for the rest of their lives. But helping these guys think about their lives started making me grow.
But that’s what helping people does. In the end – it helps you.
Helping others forces you to ask better questions, to think about things from someone else’s point of view, and to revaluate your priorities.
Working with teenagers (frankly young people in general) is important for all of us because they are a part of our community. They are as much the church as the adults, and deserve to be equally at the centre of our lives together.
We need young people. We need kids and teenagers and the in-between when they’re a little of both. We need them to show us that raw honesty is critical to faith. We need their questions and their ideas. We need them to spark our motivation and to help us see how serving people is really just about building relationships.
What’s at stake really isn’t the relevancy of the Church. God will build His church anyway. But what is at stake is our spiritual lives, our spiritual growth, because we need spiritual vitality.
Kids, Jr. Highs and Sr. Highs show us the realness of God in our lives. They carry God with them and can see the Kingdom of God in ways we can’t. They are wired to feel the truth in a way that gets squeezed out of us sometimes as we get older.
I became inspired back when I was working with Jr. Highs because, even when they are bored and disconnected, young people can’t help but tell it like it is. We need that honesty and truth.
By sharing the place of young people, that is being connected to them in relationship and experiencing both their joys and heartache, we enter into the life of Jesus in a way that we can’t when we’re just on our own.
When we connect with another person, especially a kid or a teenager, we see Jesus in a profound new way. I can say without hesitation that my life is richer because I hang out with teenagers and kids on a regular basis.
We all need it. We need to see the world from fresh eyes, and with fresh passion.
We need young people.