With four kids of our own, I find myself looking back on my teenage years a lot. Especially our church youth group.
We did a lot of fun youth group activities, but there was so much more to it. I guess I took it for granted at the time.
Now I realize what a difference there is between then and now.
Back When I Was a Kid — a Long Time Ago
Our youth group had a lot of fun together. Like ice-skating, doing “crack the whip” and everything.
Sliding down a snow covered hill in inner tubes. Or, in the summer, using inner tubes to float down the river.
I loved the hay rides. Just makes you ready for a good night’s sleep.
A basket social. That’s where the girls make the food baskets and the boys bid on them.
Even a slave day. People from the congregation came to the church on a Saturday morning and picked up a kid or two to work for them. We must have been raising money for something. I don’t remember what. But I remember my job was ironing.
Spin the plate? Well, maybe that wasn’t as exciting as some other things, but still pretty fun.
And so much more.
We’d do the activity — whatever it was, have a short devotional time (often led by one of the kids), and eat something. That was our basic meeting, particularly during the time when we didn’t have a youth pastor.
We had a super great youth group even without a youth pastor. And it was still great, even when we did get a youth pastor.
During the time of no youth pastor, we would always have some adult chaperon there with us. When I served as secretary, it was my job to make the phone calls ahead of time — asking one of the kids to do the devotional, another to bring refreshments, and asking somebody’s parents to be chaperons.
Eventually having a youth pastor, though, certainly had its advantages. For one thing, we could do things further from home. Like canoe camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Paddling and portaging…getting soaked in the rain and drying off by the campfire…eating s’mores.
But there’s obviously more to a church youth group than fun activities.
Now, thirty-five, forty, forty-five years later….
What Was the Fruit?
I can’t speak for the more recent past. I don’t know what the youth group at my home church has been like for the last few decades, because I have moved away from that area. But I can speak for the time period from ’73 to about ’87 — my era and a little beyond.
We didn’t all just grow up and live happily every after. Some tragic things have happened in some of our lives.
But a significant number of kids from our church, from our youth group, have become missionaries, pastors, pastors’ wives, as well as serving the Lord in many other ways. God has used them to touch lives in communities within our home state, in metropolitan areas further from home, and in remote villages on the other side of the world…through preaching, business, writing, aviation, teaching, health care, etc.
Here is the Connection
No. It wasn’t just having fun in a youth group that led to later fruitfulness both in the U.S. and beyond. I left out a big part of the story.
Actually, it wasn’t so much the youth group, although that did bond us together.
It was Jesus and His Church.
Adult Role Models Pointed us to Jesus
Who were the role models?
Adults in the church. Our own parents, each other’s parents, the pastor, missionaries, special speakers, etc.
The adults in the church talked to us. We talked to them. We were part of the church.
This sounds so basic. That’s why I just took it for granted. But now forty years later, I don’t see this happening. It’s like someone just took the bread away from the peanut butter sandwich and they don’t know why they can’t get the gooey mess off their fingers and into their mouth.
The adults that impacted our lives were connected to us and connected to Jesus.
But it wasn’t some kind of put on thing. It wasn’t an act. They weren’t trying to be relevant. They were just real.
Our Sunday School teacher had kids of his own. (The youngest one was in the youth group when I was.) He was just a dad — a dad who loved Jesus. He taught us from the Bible. He didn’t try to be some popular guy. But he poured into our lives, and we respected him. We knew he cared about us. He was real, and he was one of those people God used in our lives to draw us closer to Him.
The parents of all the kids were real people. We were in each other’s homes. Lots of times, we met in homes for youth group activities. We knew the other adults in the church, not just the ones with teenagers. We knew the little kids. We knew the elderly people. Church was like a big extended family.
Our pastor cared about us. He helped us grow in Christ, and gave us opportunities to be involved in the church in whatever ways we could.
When we did have a youth pastor (actually two of them during the time period I remember), they were real people. They didn’t try to be “popular” or “cool.” They were just who they were. And so were their wives. They loved Jesus and followed Him.
We had missionaries come and speak at church, especially during the annual missionary conference. I still to this day remember how one of them strongly exhorted us to give our lives completely to Christ, to be used by Him in any way He wanted to use us. They presented God’s Word to us and challenged us to follow Jesus. I made a note of it in my Bible at the time, because it impacted me so much.
We Were Active in the Church Because We Were Part of It
I have seen, in recent years, an attempt to get youth involved in the church. As if it’s some big deal to do that. Some new idea.
That wasn’t how it was for us back then. We were involved in the church, but it wasn’t a big deal. We were just part of the church, and that’s the way it was.
Youth often sang or played special music in church. Some of us sang in the church choir.
We went to Sunday morning service and Sunday evening service. Youth group met Saturday nights, so there was no conflict at all with a church service.
Sunday School was before the Sunday morning service. Yes, we did have our own Sunday School class, but even the adults had more than one class going on at that time. They could choose which one to go to. Then after Sunday School, we were all together for the service.
People of different ages talked together after the services. An outside observer would not have seen the youth go off by themselves after church, segregated from the adults. The adults were our friends, too.
Adults and youth were all individual, unique people. We each had our strengths and weaknesses, and our areas to grow in. But we accepted each other and knew that we were all one in the Body of Christ.
So, yes, we had a youth group. We did fun things. But that was an extra blessing on top of the blessing of being an integral part of the church as a whole.
We felt included. We felt cared for. We felt like we were worth something. We felt responsible. We felt challenged. We felt like we belonged.
I wish I could say the same for the church youth groups I see today.