Hanging Out With Teenagers At Church


Hanging Out With Teenagers At Church: Youth Ministry is Not For The Faint of Heart

Another major change I made in my life last year was at church.

I moved from serving for years in my happy, comfortable spot in the 2-3 year old Sunday school class over to the scary building which houses our middle school program, called elevate.

Scary because it is an old converted garage building that is slightly dilapidated, and scary because it’s full of teenagers.

It’s a short walk from the toddler hall to elevate, but when you’ve been doing finger plays and puppets for most of your adult life, it’s like going to another country.

Taido is our youth pastor at church, along with his BFF, Bobby Harrison.  They get teenagers.  They also have the rare quality of being completely at home with themselves in a way that keeps them from being intimidated by the crossed arms, rolling eyes and general sullenness of adolescents.

This is not so true of me.  I possess neither the understanding nor the self-confidence that allows one to move through the Rafters (the youth building) with ease.

But I was determined to try.  Not just because there is a huge need for volunteers over there in that foreign land, but for a far more self-serving reason.

I wanted to learn the names of Cole’s friends.

I wanted to know what the draw is for him towards this pack of boys who collectively have the social skills of a warthog.

Basically, I wanted to spy on him.

But as soon as I started going I became so overwhelmed by my own issues that I couldn’t even focus on my original reasons for being there.

The building is usually vibrating by the time I get there.  Someone is banging on the drums.  Kids are playing basketball outside.  Girls are grouping tightly into impenetrable clusters.

I thought I was going to start developing hives.

Were these girls going to talk to me?  What was I going to say to them?  Do I look like the oldest person in the room?  Why do I care?

When we divided into groups they would all beg to be in the younger leaders’ groups.

I would manage to coerce a few my way and we would muddle through some questions and somehow make it through our allotted time.  No one ever asked to sing Jesus Loves Me.

Then it would be over and I would breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Until the next week.

And then the torture would start all over again.

Fast forward 3 camps and 12 months later.  I’m still making my way over to the rafters every week.

I’m still not the leader that everyone wants to have.

But I’ve learned a lot of names and made even more Facebook friends (I know this counts for nothing), pieced together some little bits of trust with some girls over the weeks of sharing space with one another and more importantly, I no longer feel an impending sense of doom every time I walk over there.

Even better has been the unexpected side benefit of getting to see Taido’s and Bobby’s hearts for students.  They speak truth almost every week to students in a language they can understand.  I’m slowly learning a little of that language.

In June, Mary Polly entered into elevate (GASP!), so I think I’m here to stay for a while.



  1. I know when I’m leading there I always find comfort and strength and joy in your presence sitting out there among a room of crazy middle schoolers. Seriously.

    1. Thanks so much Bobby!

      And I love it when you put me on a stool in front of everyone and ask me weird questions?


  2. […] but this past year I really wanted to go along with our middle school students since I had started volunteering […]

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