In case you didn’t pick up on this from my myriad of picture postings on facebook, my twitter updates, or my plug for the youth blog, yesterday was what we affectionately and officially call “Youth Sunday” at the Presbyterian Church of Henderson.
The Henderson Presbys love Youth Sunday. The students love it because they love to plan worship. They love to pray, act, sing, dance, read and lead and all of the preparation that goes along with it. You would think they might be reluctant to show up for a three hour rehearsal on a Saturday night, but every single one of them were there, attentive, excited and expectant.
The adults love it, too. In fact, our attendance yesterday was DOUBLE what it was the week before. Oh, there were some visitors, but mostly what happened is that our members didn’t want to miss Youth Sunday. There is something so hopeful and exciting about watching a group of teenagers lead worship. I joke with some that anything can happen on Youth Sunday and when it does happen, it’s practically the only time that crazy different is embraced joyfully by our congregation.
I love Youth Sunday, too. And not just because it’s really fun to be the youth director on Youth Sunday. I am aware that I have the honor and privilege of working with an incredible group of teenagers. They are not perfect, and we have our days that are a lot less encouraging and hopeful, but this group amazes me on a regular basis. In general, they are kind and loving to each other and to “outsiders.” They care about justice, they respect each other’s beliefs, they are willing to pitch in and help when they are needed (and sometimes even without being asked or instructed). They like to discuss Bible passages, current events, important issues and this week’s American Idol with each other. They like to be together and they especially like to work together. That’s priceless. (I don’t take credit for any of the above. Most of them already possessed these qualities when they got here!)
And I love to see them work together in planning and leading worship. I love to step back and watch them work out a problem or make suggestions to each other in a loving way. And although these are kids who will sometimes push each other out of the way to be the first in the food line, I’m touched at how little each one seems to care about being in the spotlight or being the center of attention. I mean, several of them had scene stealing moments in yesterday’s service, but none of them were planned or intentional. It just turned out that way.
A few days ago, I wrote about grace. Several people sent me messages through facebook and email, but Dana commented on the actual post. I love Dana–she’s a mom, mentor, teacher, leader and friend that I admire a lot. And her comment rings true for a lot of people: “My struggle is that I feel so disconnected to those in a church. I feel I cannot be myself.”
The Church (with a capital “C” is what I tell the kids I work with–the whole Church of Jesus Christ) can sometimes feel phony and harsh. “If they know what I really think…if they know what I really want to say…if they know what I did, they wouldn’t let me come here.”
One thing I hope I’m leaving the students I teach, mentor and love is the understanding that when we come to church, we can be ourselves. It’s okay to ask questions, it’s okay to not know answers, it’s normal to have problems, it’s all right if you get confused, it’s okay if you have doubts, it’s okay if you don’t think you believe in God, it’s all right to believe something different than what I believe, and no one wants to hear the answers you think I expect you to give–just tell me what you really think. I don’t think I’ve learned how to teach this and instill this perfectly, and I’m not sure all of the students are at that place, but I’m hopeful that it’s happening and maybe it is a part of their understanding of what church can be.
I do know that on Youth Sunday, they feel free to be who they are. They know that if they are readers, they can read. If they are dancers (or even just if they want to be dancers), they can dance. If they are actors, they act; if they are singers, they sing; if they like to run the technical stuff, they handle sound and the projector. And never, not once in all of our planning did they worry that they wouldn’t be liked or that people would be upset or that they couldn’t pull it off or there might be a committee meeting because they were doing things too differently or being too outrageous. They planned it, they took on the roles they were comfortable doing and they rocked the church house yesterday for sure!
While speaking about the Gospel, the author of 2 Corinthians 4 writes, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us (v.7).” I love connecting this verse to what I do in youth ministry. We are all clay jars that are easily cracked or broken and often full of imperfections. Yet, in such breakable, earthen vessels, God keeps the greatest news of all. In our brokenness, God is glorified.
I hope for a church like that. Not for a particular type of music or a format of service, but for genuine excitement in worship, for a sense of calling for each follower, for love and grace and life that comes in imperfect, fragile vessels.