We started youth ministry when I was 21 and Aaron, my husband, was 25. Our only experience was that we had both attended youth group when we were in high school. We inherited a group of less than 10 kids. They were fun, loud and rowdy. We did the normal youth group things. You know – worship, a talk, games. I remember the first few times we did worship it was really awkward. The youth were uncomfortable with any silence and would sometimes interject jokes when we were trying to have a quiet waiting moment. Songs were often followed with sparse applause. Oh man! We decided to take a break from worship for awhile. We had also started with regular talks, which is not something Aaron or I are particularly gifted in. We had some blank stares and fidgety kids, also they didn’t listen. It was so hard to get them quiet without yelling. Is it ok to yell at youth kids? Lol. We cut the talk as well.
We, instead, began a season of just showing up. No agenda. Just getting to know our new friends. We decided that if we prayed every week we were successful. Looking back over our 7 years as youth leaders I honestly think this was the most “productive” season we had. We would split guys and girls and pray for each other. Our relationships grew deeper. With listening and empathy, we were truly caring for each other. Most of these friendships I still have and cherish.
I struggled with guilt for not having a plan or a program for our youth. But felt comforted by God that he was not asking me to sacrifice my family or my health to have awe inspiring programs. Around this time, I heard a message about Jesus feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-4). In the story, there was so much need; five thousand hungry people! His disciples argued that it would take a year’s wage to feed them all but Jesus took what one small boy had to offer and multiplied it to be more than enough. I so identified with this; there was so much need in our youth’s lives, it seemed an insurmountable task to take on. But God is so good at creating more than enough from not enough.
I felt my offering was not enough. I wanted to make a huge gesture of sacrifice and make a big impact. But that is not what God was asking of me. He asked me to show up and give what I had; friendship, time, a listening ear, and trust that he would multiply. It can be easy to put your hope in new programs and flashy lights (not that those things are bad). But when those things are not an option because you have a small budget or are working with volunteers (yourself included), it’s time to lower expectations. It’s time to find small meaningful ways to make an impact. And what do our youth need? I think it’s as small/huge as faithful presence. Faithfully showing up and offering friendship and presence. This is small because there is no fanfare here. It is huge because in some ways it asks more of you. In offering friendship you are also being vulnerable. Asking and receiving in a reciprocal relationship is risky. Can I be my authentic self as a youth leader? Relationships that go one way have no room for trust to grow.
Our youth ministry is not a story of success in the way we usually hear. When we stepped down from our ministry we were still a small group. We never had big, amazing events or turn out, but I believe God multiplied what we had to offer in other ways. Not in numbers but in friendship, honesty, and vulnerability. We had a place we could be ourselves and love one another.
So if you are in a season of just showing up. I’d like to bless you in that. What you have to give is always enough for God to use.
Where have you seen God multiply what you had to offer?