Nothing gets me quite as excited and impassioned as youth ministry. Which would be why I've already dedicated a large chunk of my life to it, and continue to involve myself with it. I love seeing it when youth grow in their faith, or struggle with the deep questions, or when the "lost" take their first baby steps towards "home."
I believe that effective youth ministry, while aided by programs, is all about building trusting relationships. Being present and authentic with the youth is key to developing trust and openness with them. The youth need opportunities to get to know you if they are going to trust you and share this deep part of their life with you.
So, what I'm getting at is that we had a lock-in at our church Saturday night. The idea came from the high school youth, and they wanted to include the younger kids, starting with the 5th graders. The kids who are currently in high school remember when they were younger that the high schoolers did things like that for them, and they remember how that made them feel, so they want to do the same for the younger kids now that they are in high school. And when the high schoolers WANT to reach out and include the younger kids, you don't discourage them. So we had a lock-in.
As I have already mentioned, I love youth ministry. Lock ins are a big part of youth ministry, where you have such extended contact with the youth, and have the opportunity to really get to know them. So, after our 5:30 Saturday service, and after I preached my sermon about Ned Flanders, I went home and changed clothes and then came back to the lock in.
The group consisted mostly of high schoolers, although there were four 5th graders and three 7th graders. Most of the high schoolers that were there are the regular attenders. They were the core group that we can depend on to be at just about everything. But there were two high schoolers there who are not very active in the church. One was a girl who I had never met before, although they did say that she had attended Sunday youth group a couple times prior to Christmas. The second was a young man who is gay, and as churches have a way of alienating people because of their sexuality, I think he has kind of turned away from church, not because of anything that Supervising or any of the previous interns may have said, but because of the perceived opinion of the Church regarding homosexuality. So they were there and I was glad to see that they were.
I had been to a lock-in back in September, and had stayed until 3 in the morning. It was also on a Saturday night and so when I had to help lead worship the next morning, I was definitely NOT in my best form. But I managed and was then able to go home and sleep most of the day.
I decided that I was going to go home a bit earlier than that this time, seeing as how I had to preach the next day.
Although, since the title of this post starts with the words "bad choice" you can probably guess what happened, and you're probably thinking that I stayed until around 3 again, aren't you?
Well, that's not too far from the truth. Although this time I ended up staying all night. Without sleeping. But we went from fun activity to fun activity and I really was having a good time and not noticing the time as the evening progressed. We played a game called "Sock 'em" which is where one group of people needs to make it from their starting point to the safe place, and another group of people wielding tube socks filled with flour are trying to "sock" the other group and send them back to the starting point, thus preventing them from reaching the safe place. And that was a fun game. Then we played "Honey if you love me, won't you please, please smile" which just involves sitting in a circle and the person in the middle trying to get someone seated in the circle to smile, but can only say that sentence. The person in the circle has to respond with "Honey, I love ya, but I just can't smile," without smiling. If they stay strong, they remain seated. If they crack under pressure and smile or laugh, they must trade places with the person in the middle. Although I was horrible at being the person who was trying NOT to smile, I was awesome at being the person in the middle, and was able to crack several people that no one else could. It was after this game that I looked at my watch and it was close to midnight. That wasn't a big deal, as I've been up later than that at my own home when I've had to preach the next morning, so I just kept going. Although, the hours quickly progressed after that, and then I decided that if I were to go home and try to sleep, that it would actually be worse than if I stayed up all night. So in the end, that logic won out and I stayed awake at church all night. But it was rewarding to get to know the youth better and to engage in some good discussions with them. And to see the high schoolers reach out and include the young 'uns and to see the young 'uns open up and begin to feel comfortable with the high schoolers.
But then, yes, I did have to preach at the 8:00 service the next day. Although I did tell Supervising right away that I had been up all night. But I don't think that you could tell. I don't know that my lack of sleep affected me that much. Although part way through the service I was sitting in my little chair and I just remember thinking, "Holy Cow, I'm tired."
Then, after that service I went back up to the youth room where people were meeting for Sunday youth group, and I sat on the couch and before I knew it I was out cold. But they were nice enough to wake me up for the 10:30 service and I did a fine job at that one, as well. People filled out evaluations of my sermon at that service, too, and they were all good. They even appreciated it that I talked about Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.
I'd like to say that after that service I was able to go home and sleep the rest of the day. But, alas, I wasn't. Because I had already agreed many moons ago to preach at one of the local nursing homes at 2 pm that afternoon. Late enought that I couldn't just go right there and get it done with, but early enough that I knew I couldn't really take a nap without probably feeling worse after the nap than I did before.
So I went to the nursing home and preached. That was fun, because the first time I said anything, one of the older women yelled from the back "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU! SPEAK INTO THE MICROPHONE!" So I started to speak into the microphone. She yelled, "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU! TURN THE MICROPHONE ON!" So then I turned it on and everything went fine. It was mostly women, although there were two men in the group. I ended up holding the door for them after the service as they shuffled out and they all said "Thanks" and "Nice sermon" and "We're glad you were here." I think the best compliment I received, however, was from one of the gentlemen who said, "I look forward to you coming back when I have hearing aides that work."
Of course, then I came home and went to bed and slept until about 7pm. Then I got up and ate some supper and piddled around the house (piddle here means "did a whole lot of nothing" it does not have anything to do with urinating) until about 11:00pm or so, at which point I went back to bed.
So overall it was a great couple of days. It is weekends like this that really say to me, "Hey Mark! You just might be on the right path! Keep on truckin'!" I suppose I should tell the weekend that the phrase "keep on truckin'" went out of style several decades ago, although when the weekend is trying to be uplifting and affirming to me, I feel like I shouldn't criticize it.