A little bit of belief in someone can go a long way.
My old youth minister David Logsdon probably had a greater impact on my spiritual growth than any other single person I have known. One of the most important things David did for me was to give me real opportunities to practice what he saw as my gifts, even when I was at an age that some others might not take that risk. For example, when I was in seventh grade, our youth group started having once-a-month church services separate from the larger church service. Some of the high school students led worship, and David would preach, and it was a good chance to connect as a group and do something geared more toward our stage in life. For one of the first youth services, David decided that, instead of preaching himself, he would have three students share their testimonies, and he asked me to be one of those students.That was really the first time that I spoke in front of a crowd like that. Looking back, I was a pretty odd choice. The other two students were both juniors in high school and were taller and certainly better orators than I was. I don't remember much about the event, other than that I was really nervous and said something about a t-shirt I had that said "i believe."
Fast forward a year and a half. I was on campus at Colorado State University for my first CIY in the summer before my freshman year. After one of the elective classes, I was walking out of a building with two girls from my youth group when one of them randomly brought up that testimony I had given at the youth service, and she said something like, "You did a really good job when you gave your testimony. You would be a good minister." I had never really thought about going into ministry before then. At that point, I wanted to grow up and be a journalist. But that girl's words stuck with me, and by the end of the week the prospect of going into ministry had continued to grow in my mind.
Now here I sit, two-thirds of the way through another youth ministry internship before I go back for my fifth year of Bible college. I'm sure there are a number of influences that led to me actually ending up in ministry--most importantly the call and work of God. But at least a large part of it is the fact that over nine years ago, my youth minister asked me to get up and talk to the youth group. That might be something not every youth minister would be willing to do. I was a frail little middle schooler, for heaven's sake. There was no telling what might have happened. I could have freaked out on stage and ran off crying for my mommy. I could have mumbled out a 30-second, garbled mess that would have been nonsense to everyone else. I could have wet my pants right there in front of everyone and decided never to come to church again. And yet, for some reason, David saw something in me and used it, and that's partly what has gotten me where I am today. And I don't even have time to tell how David was the first to let me preach, or how he got me to play drums in a worship band for the first time.
I was reminded of all of this by an article on CNN.com from earlier this week about Donald Miller and his mentor, David Gentiles. The article tells of an incident that Miller writes about in To Own a Dragon. Gentiles was Miller's youth minister, and one day he asked the young Miller if he would like to write something for the church newsletter, and Miller wrote about a girl who was booed at the school talent show. Afterward, Gentiles continued to give Miller opportunities to write. When Miller started to write books, Gentiles was his biggest advocate. And now Miller has written a number of books and influenced a crazy number of people, including me.
Last week, we at Suburban took our middle school students to Salem to work with the Union Gospel Mission. The students did a great job working their tushes off and interacting with the men at the mission. They sweat and labored for hours at a time, while I sipped my blended chai and "supervised." They even finished all the work that the mission had planned on them doing, so they had to find other projects for us. One of the cool things about the trip was that, before we left, the students were split into different teams, each responsible for a different aspect of the trip. One of the teams was the worship team, who planned our devotions and such that we would have during the week. Instead of having some of the church's pastors or other adults write the devotions and plan small group discussions, they decided to step up and do it themselves, and they did fantastically. Also, one of our high school students came on the trip as a sponsor, and he also did a great job. One night he and I co-led a small group, but he did more to guide the discussion than I did.
My hope and prayer is that, through such opportunities to serve and minister, our students will continue to grow in their gifts and abilities and use them for Christ. Sometimes it just takes a little trust and room for failure for a young person to understand what they can do in the kingdom. The reason I write all this is that I know there are a number of youth ministers, volunteers, and others who work with youth that read my blog. My encouragement to all of you is that you give your students a chance to use their gifts. It might mean that you have a little less control about the outcome. It might mean that you have to get out of the way. But it can mean a lifelong impact on a young person for you to simply say, "I believe you can do this," and then to support them and cheer for them along the way. It was for me, anyway.
When I was driving to the church on Tuesday, I saw a man riding a unicycle down the sidewalk while juggling three basketballs. I guess if this whole ministry thing doesn't work out, I know what I want to do with me life!