Paying It Forward – Youth Ministry

When I was in high school, I attended the youth group at our church.  Our youth group was called SYNC – Senior Youth Nurturing in Christ.  Part of the reason I attended this group was my dad was the youth pastor.  Did I really have a choice?  Part of the reason I attended was the great friends I had in the group.  I will always remember people like Brian Willem, Mark Redlus, Paul Braun, Pete Braun, Andy Travis, and John Kosydar.  What a crew!

And a major part of the reason I attended was the youth leaders.  I will always remember leaders like Ray and Joann Rivera who consistently opened up their home for late night conversations about life.  I will always remember the Shumates and the Derstines who spent countless weekend nights hanging out with a bunch of obnoxious teenagers like me.  And I will always remember Dave and Nora Kennedy who poured their energy into us while juggling the responsibilities of starting a family.

On one occasion, our group was inside for “game time”.  The adults often joined in with the kids for games of indoor soccer, four square, and relay races.  On this night, we were having relay races up in the Brainerd Room of the church.  Relays involved skipping, running, crawling, and even going backwards from the starting line at one end of the room to a chair located at the other end of the room and then back to the starting line again.  When it came time to go backwards, Dave Kennedy (one of the leaders mentioned above) took his turn.  As he made it to the chair, he lost his balance and proceeded to do one of the biggest crash landings I have ever seen.  When it was all over, Dave popped up, we all laughed, and the relay races continued.

This quick misstep could easily be overlooked as simply being a funny youth group blooper memory.  Yet it means so much more for me.  Leaders like Dave risked rug burn and embarrassment to make sure I had a fun and safe place to hang out.  These leaders demonstrated that we mattered.  They were willing and ready to spend 4 hours a week plus countless hours planning and going on retreats, camping trips, and other special events so kids like me would have a place to hang out.  Leaders like Dave had a huge impact on me in high school, and their impact continues today.

Last night, I had the privilege of being a leader at RIOT (my church’s youth group).  I’ve been attending the weekly Sunday night meetings ever since I came back from Guatemala.  During “game time” last night, we played kickball.  It brought back so many great memories including the memory of Dave Kennedy flopping over the folding chair.  I was the first one up to kick, and I proceeded to kick the ball into play.  As I neared first base at full speed, I had no idea how slippery it would be when I hit the extra-large base that was floating on the slick concrete floor.  Before I knew it, the base slipped out from under me, and I was sprawled out on my back side.  I think the kids were in shock as they saw me flat on my back.  I quickly popped up and the game proceeded.

Over the past three or four months, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the kids who come to RIOT.  They come from all backgrounds, and they are dealing with all kinds of home and school situations.  They need adults like Dave Kennedy in their lives who will go all out during “game time” and will lend a listening ear when times get tough.  I’m so thankful for Dave Kennedy and my other youth leaders who led by example.  I hope I can live up to the example they set.

Were you in a church youth group when you were a teenager?  How do you remember your leaders?  Have you thought about diving into volunteer as a youth leader?  What’s stopping you from taking the plunge?