It All Started With A Slice of Cake
I wouldn’t quite call myself bossy, but something that morning had me asking a 13-year old teenager to go get me a slice of cake. I didn’t even know her, and the only reason I sat at the same table as her was because there was space. Still, I explained to her that tres leches cake was my favorite, and I begged her to walk up to the lunch line and get me another slice. And she did…
One of the most transformative relationships I’ve had in my lifetime started with a slice of cake. When we met, Lynn was 13 and had just finished middle school. I was 19 and spending my summer as the children’s ministry intern in Hawaii. For me to say that God was not looking down on us and orchestrating each second of our first encounter would be a disgrace to the power of God. He used our relationship to not only change the trajectory of my life, but to transform both of our lives in the image of His perfect plan.
Good, powerful, Godly relationships do that to you. They not only change who you are, but they change who you’re becoming. In youth ministry, empowerment allows young people to understand their role and worth in a church environment, relationships act as a way of showing care through companionship, and the transformation that occurs along the way reaps immeasurable rewards.
The Intern’s Intern
I had only been interning for a few weeks, so to have grown as close as we did as fast as we did was surprising. Many people around campus recognized that I had my own little assistant following me around. Others in the intern group joked that she was the slave and I was the master. Nonetheless, our relationship started as the intern and the intern’s intern.
Go Clean Rat Poop
The first official task of the intern’s intern was to help set up for Vacation Bible School. In doing so, I made her clean out a treasure chest that had been sitting in storage for months. Unbeknownst to me, the treasure chest had accumulated rat poop while sitting in storage. So Lynn’s first job as the intern’s intern was to go clean rat poop.
You would think after this she would have thrown in the towel and walked away, but she didn’t. I literally made her clean out poop, but that small token of responsibility encouraged her to keep coming back for more. So day after day, she spent her free time during summer vacation coming into the office early to help me prepare. Whether it be printing paper, cutting out letters, or hanging up flyers, she wanted to be there to help in any way that she could.
Rather than equipping her to have all the qualities of the next great pastor, I empowered her to believe that she can have a role in the church. I did my very best to help her understand that God has called her to be more than just a spectator at church.
Pass It On
The church is filled with young people who are just waiting for the ball to get tossed their way. If they’re lucky, not only will the ball get tossed to them, but someone will be there to coach them along the way and show them how to play the game. Too often though, they never get the ball. They never get the opportunity to try it on their own. It’s our responsibility as leaders in the church to make sure they get a turn at playing the game.
When a young person begins to accept responsibility within a church environment it shows that they are committed to their faith. It is now their own, and they want to take care of it in any way they can. The significance of accepting responsibility is that the young person no longer stays a spectator, but they become a participant in their church. Accepting responsibility in the church shows that the young person is advancing forward and no longer staying stagnant, but it can only begin if we give them the opportunity to have responsibility in the church.
The Adventures of Meg and Lynn
On the days we didn’t spend our time in the office or in the school chapel, we were off on our own adventures. Whether it be golfing, getting shave ice, or going to the beach, it was a summer full of going out and having fun. It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows though. Like any lasting relationship, we endured our own series of trials and questions… After all, at the end of that summer I would be boarding a plane back to California never knowing if I would ever be returning to Hawaii.
It’s Going to Be Ok
I remember the night Lynn texted me asking why it’s important to attend youth group. It was already late in California, and I was almost about to turn the lights off before bed. But it was a question that couldn’t wait until the next morning. So I stayed awake for hours explaining to her that God created us to be in community with other like-minded Christians, and youth group is a place for that. I gave her the Bible verse Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I didn’t know if anything I had said made an impact on her, but the next summer when I heard her give her testimony and talk about an individual who told her about Proverbs 27:17 and it being the reason she felt called to go back to youth group, I knew staying up late that night was the right decision.
Fast forward a few years and Lynn and I were sitting on my bedroom floor crying. She didn’t understand why her youth pastor would leave to go to another church, and I didn’t know what words would console her. So instead of trying to make it seem like a picture perfect situation, I just sat there and cried along with her. I told her I didn’t know, but that I’d be right there with her to figure it out along the way. I didn’t know how but I told her that it was going to be ok.
A Little Inconvenient
Relationships can be a little inconvenient. Being involved in the lives of young people can be a little inconvenient. They don’t always understand boundaries or respectable times to call, but it’s when they need help in the inconvenient hour that you know your relationship with them is not simply a connection.
Connections are encounters that don’t do much to impact a person’s life beyond that specific moment. Relational ministry, however, brings together all of these connections. Young people want to be known in the church, and they want their problems to be heard. Through suffering alongside one another the relationship shows its support of the individual. It’s the act of carrying each other’s load without seeking any type of incentive in return. It’s place- sharing.
Place- sharing occurs when “we should enter deeply into each other’s lives for only their sake, knowing that in doing so God in Christ is present to us both.” It is a call to action that says I will endure the same pain as a way of understanding someone else. Place- sharing requires the individuals to be so close in relationship that they take upon each other’s pain becoming an advocate for one another. These types of relationships have the ability to shift one’s life from what it was to what it can become.
Because of Lynn
It’s because of Lynn that I currently live in Hawaii. It’s because of Lynn that I kept coming back. It’s because of Lynn that I turned down an opportunity to au pair in Australia so that I could come back to intern in Hawaii for a second summer.
The relationship Lynn and I have cultivated throughout the years started from nothing, but it has transformed the way I live my life. Out of nothing, God placed me in the life of a teenager, and in return the love I have for her and the value I have in our friendship drew me closer to God’s plan for my life. Relationships represent a “concrete location of God’s presence in our midst” and this relationship pulled me closer to Christ.
“Practical theology often means the acquiring of skills through experience.” Our friendship has turned my beliefs into reality and given me the opportunity to model a lifestyle after Christ to a young person trying to understand what it means to be Christian. “With praxis, the telos, or ultimate purpose and value of an action becomes part of the action.” Along the way I had no idea that our friendship would impact me the way it did, but it has taught me what it means to invest not only in another individual but invest in their walk with God as well. This type of friendship does more than hope the best for one another, but it strives to keep each other accountable in following Christ’s plan over our lives.
In the unlikeliest of ways, I made the most transforming of relationships. It taught me the importance of helping others feel welcomed in the church. It allowed me to feel someone else’s pain not in a way of hurt but as a means of helping console them. It drew me closer to God, while also drawing someone else closer to God. This relationship changed the trajectory of my life as I learned to care deeply about someone else and their walk with God.
In youth ministry, we can show we care through the relationships we have with our youth. We can pass them the ball and give them a piece to be responsible for in the church. We can suffer alongside them and give them our support. We can draw them closer to God through our actions and our attempts at drawing closer to God. These types of relationships bring God into the core of youth ministry and share the love of Christ with all who come to the table.