March 01, 2007

Youth Group

In her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott explains why she makes her teenage son go to her church's youth group: “I make Sam go because the youth-group leaders know things that I don't. They know what teenagers are looking for, and need...”

It's been two years since we've had a formal, active youth group at my church. Anne Lamott makes it sound like adults who lead youth groups just know what to do, as if it's in their genes—and maybe for some it is, but for most of us, it's a struggle. We're clueless, for the most part, when it comes to leading youth. At the last youth group event I led, I was trying to get the kids involved in a discussion, but they decided instead to run around the church, bouncing off the walls. I mean that literally. If you look closely, you can still see the marks. I had tried many times to get other adults interested in helping, but couldn't find any suckers—uh, I mean volunteers—so I decided then and there that this would be my last attempt at having youth group.

The kids, however, kept coming. “No youth group, no problem” seemed to be their motto. They'd stop by our house across the street on a regular basis. This became such a habit for them that they eventually stopped knocking; now they just walk right in. They complain when we were out of their favorite foods, set all the radio presets to their favorite stations, and ask for rides into town. They ask when the next regional youth retreat is, and if they could get some money to help pay for it.

I tell them, “The church will help pay for you to go to camp, but wouldn't it be nice if you actually came to Sunday morning worship once in awhile? The folks at church wonder if I'm making it all up when I tell them we have youth going to church camp.”

“Yeah, sure,” they'd say, with no intention of showing up. Well, at least they're getting something out of camp.

Anne Lamott says that “teenagers need adults who have stayed alive and vital, adults they wouldn't mind growing up to be. And they need total acceptance of who they are, from adults they trust, and to be welcomed in whatever condition life has left them—needy, walled off. They want guides, adults who know how to act like adults but with a kid's heart. They want people who will sit with them and talk about the big questions, even if they don't have the answers; adults who won't correct their feelings or pretend not to be afraid. They are looking for adventure, experience, pilgrimages, and thrills. And then they want a home they can return to, where things are stable and welcoming. I mean, how crazy can you get?”

Crazy indeed. But I don't complain; not too much, anyway. The kids have learned how to keep me happy and quiet. Sometimes, they give me hugs when I see them. Last week, one of them bought me an ice cream sundae at McDonalds. Plus, I get to learn things about them that even their parents don't know, including some of the stupid things they do, like dancing in the middle of the street in a gorilla costume, throwing tomatoes at stop signs, and other stuff. I try to guide them to activities that are perhaps more productive, things that would be a better use of their time, but I know I can only push so far. They're teenagers, after all. Sometimes, I wonder how much good I'm doing, and whether or not my efforts are worth it. But then I remember when I was told that Ginger and I had literally saved at least one kid's life simply by welcoming them into our home and our family.

I don't know about you, but that's motivation enough for me to keep trying.

Therefore, I've decided to restart our youth group, beginning this Sunday, even though my decision makes me wonder if I shouldn't have my head examined instead.

The youth group will meet Sunday evenings, 7-8. Since my own kids are a little older now, Ginger will be able to help lead, which is great, because she currently ranks a bit higher on the coolness scale than I do. Hopefully, I can convince several other adults to come. If there's one thing I know, it's that you can't lead a youth group by yourself, especially when you don't really know what you're doing.

Besides, it won't be long before my own kids are teenagers, and they'll need someone who fits Anne Lamott's description, someone who at least has a passing score on the coolness factor; and let me tell you, it's not going to be the person who nags them everyday to clean their rooms, take out the trash, and do their homework.


~m2~ said...

I sat and had breakfast yesterday morning, overhearing a youth pastor interviewing a potential youth worker yesterday. He had so much wisdom for a (about) 20-something-year old -- the main piece of advice was " matter where you are, be aware that someone will know you. Your actions are monitored, you would think you won't know a soul, but it will return to you in some way that a mother of a friend's mom was there and saw behavior that was less-than stellar. These kids look up to us..."

I just smiled and thought "spot on" and it made me happy to know there are young folks out there that think the way he did. They are vital, they are necessary.

~m2~ said...

sorry for the redundancy of the first sentence and for any potential typos that followed...serves me right for not proofreading!!