Along the Way

Originally published March 2004.

John 14:27-31 (CEV) - "I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid. You have already heard me say that I am going and that I will also come back to you. If you really love me, you should be glad that I am going back to the Father, because He is greater than I am. I am telling you this before I leave, so that when it does happen, you will have faith in me. I cannot speak with you much longer, because the ruler of this world is coming. But he has no power over Me. I obey my Father, so that everyone in the world might know that I love Him. It is time for us to go now."

It is time for us to go now. Jesus taught the disciples along the way. They didn't get seminars or conferences. Sometimes they got boat times or sit-down times to learn. But often, it appears, that they were walking and learning. Jesus would walk, see a situation and teach. Jesus saw wheatfields and that became a lesson. Jesus saw a blindman and asked His disciples who is at fault for this man being born blind. The disciples learned something and the man was healed.

 

I am relatively sure that the disciples would have liked some conference time. When Peter, James and John were at the transfiguration, it was Peter who broke the holy silence and offered to build tents so they could stay there. But Jesus said no, it was time to go.

Conferences and seminars are good. Let me shamelessly promote myself here as offering some teaching that would benefit your leadership team and youth group. Retreats and camps are great. These are the headlining memories in a teen's faith journey. We need to do these. They are a youth ministry must. But I believe we also need to learn from Jesus' model and teach as we are along the way.

Have you ever been frustrated after you have put together the greatest "talk?" You worked and re-worked it. You delivered it with passion. You prayed and prayed beforehand. You knew it contained powerful points with clear action points, you felt this word deep in your gut and you were sure that this talk would take your youth group to the next level. Yet after it was delivered you had the same group and no one took action. Well, maybe one did but he/she always does. And now days later you are wondering how you could have the most apathetic youth group in all of America.

Personally I would like to believe that my amazing teaching skills would inspire teens to flee from all wickedness and become the teens I believe them to be. But I have come to learn after doing this for my second decade that youth learn how to live out this faith along the way. They may emotionally react to my powerful preaching. Maybe. Or they may chuck it away into their memory banks until that day they are walking along the way and something in their life and this memory of what they were taught clash. This clash would then bring about the life changes we so hope for. But it happened along the way and I may or may not have been along that way with them at that time.

And for those who emotionally-reacted to my message, the commitment stuck for how long?A week? Longer? One day?

As I'm sure you have already learned, it isn't your powerful preaching that is growing the youth. It is just the plain teaching that you are giving that is--whether it is done through q&a times, drama, worship, experiential methods, or your mighty preaching abilities.

In all reality, if a youth responded in a life-changing way to something that you preached (or I as any guest speaker you brought in), there is a possibility that they could change in yet a completely other life-changing way upon hearing another person teach something contrary to the gospel. As Ephesians 4:14 says, "Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth." (NLT) If well-prepared and well-said words are what moved them then someone else could also with his/her words. But if a youth comes to a life-changing decision along the way, there is no swaying because that decision was planted and watered many times before that decision. It could only sprout into that decision.

I love Mike Yaconelli's thoughts on "unspiritual growth" from Messy Spirituality. First he discusses that spiritual growth encompasses a lifetime of decisions just like I learned from my favorite youth ministry book, Faith Shaping by Stephen D. Jones, nearly 20 years ago. As Yac wrote, growth is made one decision at a time or as I'm writing about, growth is made along the way.

Yac also wrote that people think spiritual growth should look like this:

But in reality, spiritual growth looks like this.

If you look back on your own life, you know this. You may even have larger ups and downs than my little drawing. It is good for us to remember that this is how our youth grow also. It is not a smooth uphill climb. It is wide ups and downs which we have to walk through with them along the way while we have them. I recently had lunch with one of my favorite youth pastor friends. He said he's been identifying a lot with Noah lately. It took Noah 120 years to build the ark without much hope or reason in site. He just kept building. My friend identifies with that with his youth ministry.

Greg Stiers of Dare2Share wrote for Youth Specialties about The Passion of the Christ: "In The Passion of the Christ I was struck by how long the walk to the Cross actually took. It was so long, so torturous, so harrowing that by the time Jesus actually was crucified on the top of Golgotha I was actually relieved. Life-changing youth ministry is like a walk to the Cross, a painful, step-by-step stumbling toward the Cross." (Youthspecialties.com)
It's a long haul, folks, but you are privileged to be one of those influential ones along the way. Be responsible with all the "along the way" opportunities you are given.