“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” -Isaiah 43:1
Last night a friend shared with me that her kid’s adjustment to middle school has been tough. Three weeks in, she still cries every day about having to go to school. Two days ago, a young friend shared with me how stressful transitioning to high school has been for him. He tells me that something as simple as going down the hallway is fraught with fear, that he basically just gets shoved along a sea of shoulder-to-shoulder people. Sometimes, with all of our adult issues to handle, I think we romanticize being young and we forget how hard it is to be a teen. Isaiah’s words of reassurance “Fear not” come at a time when the people of God were in exile, an in-between time when nothing was familiar and they weren’t sure where to go next. Kinda like being 15.
So lately I want to go up to every family with a teen I see and ask, “Does your kid have a church youth group?!?” Because I believe that church youth groups are a saving grace for the challenging years of finding your way to adulthood. And let’s be clear: what makes a youth group powerful is not that they have rock climbing walls in their church’s facility, or that they have 300 kids come to a Christian concert they host. What makes a youth group effective is that the second time your kid shows up, at least 3 people call him or her by name. Your kid is known, not just by a leader who is supposed to know your kid, but by a group of kids who know their job is to know each other, to love each other, and to make room to let new kids have that saving grace too.
In a healthy church youth group, kids get led by adults who are not interested in being cool but who are intensely interested in being an appropriate adult friend who can show a kid that life gets better, and that following Jesus is worth it. In a healthy church youth group, kids do not have to repeat the same popularity jockeying that happens in school. They can drop all that nonsense and get practice at being themselves in an accepting and fun atmosphere where authentic is always in. In a healthy church youth group, kids get pointed beyond themselves, their drama, and their preferences, to see how serving others gives life purpose and joy that can’t be diminished by not having the right shoes for homecoming or having a bad hair day. In a healthy church youth group, kids see a life that really is life, lived out in every generation in the church supporting each other and reaching out to the world.
When I see our church’s youth group greeting each other with hugs, sitting up front together in worship, helping serve elderly people, going on mission trips, joking around over foosball, or studying the Bible together, I know these lives are being saved by grace by the God who knows us and calls us each by name. If you have a kid who needs that, hope you’ll bring him to our place.