Here is a story from a student at SWITCH. May this touch your heart, and challenge us to be willing to be used by God.
My life before SWITCH I was living with my grandma. I was always sad and upset. I really was just always scared of my family. I was being sexually abused by 3 different family members: My grandpa and my two brothers. My grandma was always mean to me. She abused me physically, emotionally and mentally. DHS would come to our house all the time but my grandma would teach us to lie so nobody would find out how our life really was. I hated myself, and my life. I wasn’t even sure if there was a God. My life was so terrible. My grandma had adopted me when I was 6. My mom was into drugs and still is. I don’t know who my dad is, and I haven’t met either of them. My grandma would always hit me, and yell at me. She would tell me that I am not good enough. She would put me down so much that eventually I started degrading myself. I would believe all the lies she would tell me, like, I’m a slut, and a whore, a fake. I was never able to accept compliments. I thought I was ugly and disgusting. I was always giving in to people and letting them use me. I was so lost. And I couldn’t stand up for myself. I couldn’t trust anyone enough to tell them what I would go through every day.
Since being a part of SWITCH I met Aymee Farris, my SWITCH leader. I told her about my life at my grandmas. I told her everything. DHS got involved and I ended up going to foster care. Aymee, went through the foster parent program so she could be a foster parent to me, so that I could come live with her. She started bringing me to SWITCH after I started living with her. After a few weeks I recommitted my life to Christ. Aymee and I talk a lot about forgiveness and I don’t hate myself. I am learning about God and growing closer to Him. I have been very scared lately though because I thought I was going to get sent back to my grandma’s. Yesterday, we went to court and my grandma gave up her rights to me. I am still living with Aymee, and she is going to adopt me!! A lot has changed since I started going to SWITCH. I am figuring out who I really am. I am becoming a new person. I am getting a chance at a new life. And things are so much better. I am learning so much so fast and I am able to enjoy myself. I am no longer allowing people to take advantage of me. I am not scared anymore. I don’t have to go home to abuse every day.
I am becoming a new and better Christian and person. I am actually happy.
This is a hilarious video of a kid coming off laughing gas from the dentist. We showed it at SWITCH last night during offering to fill a gap in our experience. Our kids loved it! It will make you laugh!
Sometimes in youth ministry it can be hard to see any fruits of your labor. Sometimes you just don’t know if you’re getting through to your students, or if they are “getting” it or not.
Well, for anyone who has ever felt that way, let me encourage you with this story. This young lady in our youth group at Northwest is 16 years old. I will summarize what her life was like before coming to SWITCH, and then let her take it from there:
Shakari stayed with her mom before coming to SWITCH. Her life was filled with the wrong people: an unhealthy relationship with a 20 year old man (she was 13 at the time.) Friends that encouraged drinking, smoking etc. Since her mom was never around she went to stay with her dad. (This is where we’ll pick up the story in her words)
My dad finally let me and my sisters start to go to SWITCH on Wednesday nights. At first I just went to hang out with my friends and to get out of the house. After a while I started to cut myself because I started to feel all this pain, hurt, the feeling of being alone, and not loved and wanted. Then I would start to have thoughts of suicide and how I just didn’t care anymore. And that nobody would even care that if I was gone so what was the point of staying. It started to be too much to handle so I started talking to my youth leader about these things. And I remember her telling me that she would care if I was gone so would my small group leader and everybody that loved me. That I was not alone I was worth so much more than that. After I talked to her I had felt a little better getting that off my chest and so I tried to stop cutting but it only lasted for about 3-4 weeks. I had just felt so overwhelmed again and that this world and everyone and everything in it hated me. And I remember telling my leader about how I started cutting again and she asked why I had started up again. I told her about being overwhelmed and so tired and alone. She was like “Shakari, God is Always with you, and you might not know it at all times but he is. And that you really need to stop hiding behind yourself because God has put you on this earth for a reason and to be a leader to others and you need to stand up to that.”
I remember one Wednesday night at church during worship I just couldn’t handle everything and I just prayed to God that he comes into my heart. To help me in my times of weakness and to overcome this addiction I had with cutting myself. It felt good to know that the world didn’t hold my life anymore and that God did. After that I started going to church for the right reason. It felt really good to know that I was not alone. It felt great to worship him and try to learn something new from the messages. Of all the people, places, and churches that I have met or been to I have never felt that I actually belonged like I do at SWITCH. I started coming every Wednesday. I can’t imagine my life without SWITCH. I stopped cutting and it has been three months. I know I can hang on and go longer because my leaders and youth pastors are the best and I know I can call them or talk to them whenever I feel tempted. Most of the time when I do feel weak I pray to God and ask him to help me and to give me strength.
Through all things I believe that God put me with my dad because he knew SWITCH was exactly what I needed in my life. I pray to God every night that he does not take LifeChurch away from me because it is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I would not know who Jesus is and how much he loves me. I am working on a better and closer relationship with God and I know that I don’t have to build that relationship with God alone. Something that I learned recently is that I was so busy being mad at hating the world and myself that I didn’t see I was causing myself more hurt than anyone else. I know that I have made mistakes but it is okay because I am still loved and wanted and precious in his sight. And of all things I am FORGIVEN.
Working in youth ministry gives me many opportunities to learn and grow. One of the areas I’m growing in right now is finding the balance between being a friend and a leader.
I work with several adult volunteers who, over the course of the three years we’ve been doing ministry, I’ve developed strong ties of friendship. I think relational leadership it is a great way to lead, and probably the way I lead the best. But when problems arise it can be difficult to know which side of the fence to lead from: Friend or leader?
Inevitably, in leadership, you’re not going to make everyone happy. (I’m learning this too, but that is a whole notha blog post). When it’s your friends in the ministry who become unhappy about certain things it can be hard not to take their complaints personally. It can be a challenge to not allow their opinions of you to dictate how you lead and what decisions you make.
There have been several instances in my three years of ministry where I have had to figure out this balance between friend and leader. Here are a few things I’ve done to help me along the way:
Always check–Anytime someone brings a complaint about how I am leading, I always check myself through prayer to see if their complaint has any truth. If it does, I try to reconcile things with the person. If it doesn’t, I continue to stand firm in my decisions knowing my ultimate goal is not to make other happy, but to please God.
Seek Counsel--I am surrounded by leaders who are far better and far wiser than I am. Their guidance in areas like this have helped me tremendously along the way.
Don’t take it personal–The ministry is not about me anyways. I’m simply a steward of what God has given me. When complaints or frustrations with volunteers arise I take my emotions out of the equation and try to lead from an objective mindset. (Ok, so I try to take my emotions out of the equation. Like I said, I’m still learning!)
Know who you are–This one is so important. If I don’t know who I am or have a firm grasp on why I’m doing what I’m doing, it would be very easy for me to wither under the scrutiny of of what others think. I’ll say it again, I’m not here to make others happy, I’m here to serve, honor and obey God, and only Him.
Maybe you have had similar experiences. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
In March our youth staff hear from Dr. Tim Elmore, writer of the Habitudes books, and leadership development guru. He spends a lot of his time studying and researching generations in the past to help us understand where generations of the future will go. He is passionate about shaping the future of the next generation of students.
In one of his sessions we talked about what he calls generation iY. It’s generation Y, but with the influence of all things Apple, iPhone, iTunes, iTouch, iPad… etc. He helped us discover that the generation we are currently working with in our student ministries desires one thing: to engage them. No longer will students of today respond to someone telling them what to think. They want to come to the conclusion themselves, they want to discover. This generation of students is the first generation that doesn’t need a leader to get information. They have the internet for that. What they need from us is help interpreting that information. But we can’t just tell them what to thing, we have to help them discover, we have to engage them.
Our team at LifeChurch.tv took this seriously as they prepared the next series of content. They came up with the idea that before a youth pastor got up on stage and “told” the students what to think through preaching, we asked the students to first upload their thoughts on the subject. How did we do this? In our ministry we meet in small groups led by adult leaders. Instead of meeting in our small groups at the end of the night, we met at the beginning. We told the students that as a group we had the opportunity to upload our thoughts through text messages. We came up with what our group thought was the biggest lesson we learned from our discussion and then one member text the lesson to the youth pastor who would use it in his short sermon at the end of the night.
We spoke their language! You should’ve seen the excitement. Getting to use their phones, which are appendages to their bodies, to engage them on their level changed the game in many of our small groups. The students loved the idea of formulating a thought on their own and then using technology to make that thought known. We engage them. Instead of telling them what to think, we helped them learn how to think.
In this day and age with students, we need everything we can get to help reach them. Try it at your church and let me know the impact engaging your students brings to the group.