Something I have been meaning to write about is a bit of an on-going theme of mine, which is, awkwardly titled, Growing Up Christian. Sometimes I have been a little bitter about my experiences as a youth person growing in a number of churches and different ministries, but really, it has brought me much joy, friendship, faith and respect for those who are in ministry. I’m certain of my faith, but uncertain of where I should be in tends of regular worship in a church. All the same, here’s some thoughts from me about, well, growing up Christian.
I went to two services a day, usually, morning and evening. Morning services were nice because more people attended them, and you could do stuff after church. The sermons tended to be longer, which was mostly okay. Also, visiting speakers and baptisms tend to happen more in the morning.
I liked evening services better because they, generally speaking, are more youth orientated. (By ‘youth’, basically, anyone who is not yet a grandparent.) The worship music was often more contemporary, the services were shorter, and depending on who was there, sometimes there would be some kind of gathering afterwards. I also really like doing things at night, so evening services were always my preference.
There is almost always a ‘cooler’ church than yours. As a teenager, I was fairly certain that there were at least two churches that seemed more with it than my own. I don’t know if it was to do with their technology (I was on Overhead Projector duty a lot), the fact their worship team seem to shop for clothes somewhere I didn’t, possible mood lighting, or general welcoming atmosphere. What I found though, was that although I might stray a little, nothing really beats your own, predictable, know-where-the-toilets-are kind of church.
I’ve been part of youth groups since I was 13. Let me tell you some things about them. Some churches are happy to define the age bracket of youth group. Others are a bit more fancy free. Some of my favourite people I have met through youth group, some people I saw every week and hardly spoke to them. Youth groups are supposed to be fun, but, really, the best nights were always a) ‘chillax time’ with a speaker or something, but do what you want before and after, b) with people you liked and c) unpredictable.
As young people, we did lots of fun things. We also did lots of ‘fun things’ according to adults. Some highlights for me include a Survivor themed day (complete with a gross food challenge), girls only sleepovers, cooking nights and sneaking out during watching videos to have D&Ms. Sometimes there was a bit of pressure to bring friends and try and make youth group bigger. Actually, I just wanted to hang with my church friends, and my friends I would bring along tended to come for the big themed nights, or not at all. Youth groups are best led, in my opinion, by people who are passionate about youth and aren’t always looking to be entertaining. There are many youth organisations you can join for adventurous activities and Big Nights Out, often youth group is not the best place for it.
Volunteering and ministry
I started volunteering at a Christian community radio station when I was 15, which is something I loved to do, but certainly had its time and place. I found, quickly, that volunteering often gives so much more back than you expect, but also, sometimes it is not what you think it will be. I was really slowly eased into my time at Rhema (which is now Lime FM if you’re curious), and I probably wasn’t exactly great at what I did, although at the time I thought I was awesome (because: teenager).
Other than announcing, I joined a Beach Mission for ten days. Like volunteering at Rhema, I wasn’t great at this either, but didn’t have a lot of support in what I was supposed to be doing. I loved the experience, but in this case it was probably too much too soon, and I haven’t served on Beach Mission since. I would also help out at different youth groups, which I enjoyed, but again, I was older and didn’t love being told what to do. I always valued spending time with young people, and I am really grateful for this time in my life.
Of all my church friends, I am one of the slim minority of those with no musical ability whatsoever. I love music, and have for as long as I can remember, but on a worship team I am, really, not very good. Just before moving to Adelaide, I had the opportunity to lead worship for about six months at youth services, which I loved, but, again, wasn’t always fit for the job. I did find (as I have now that I sing to Natalie at least twenty times a day) that the more I was singing, the better I became… but when coming up from slim-to-no-talent, it’s probably nothing to write home about.
I got into a bit of a pattern of being a youth band groupie for awhile, but things changed when one of my friends called and asked me to decorate church for a service. Well, I went all out and brought in all sorts of junk from the storage shed which hadn’t seen the light of day since the 80s. And, being a thoughtless youthie, I never put any of it back, but man, it looked awesome. Like I said before, I spent a lot of time on the OHP which is not a job I say I miss too often.
I thought I’d better write about this before my next topic. I was super blessed to have mostly amazing church friends. They were often the people I spoke to about the tough times, or my goals or thoughts or theories, before talking to someone from school about it. It was hard though in my last year or two before moving to Adelaide, when most of my friends had moved away or moved on, and there wasn’t really anyone to help fill the void. Also, my church friends, and Bible College friends, are some of the few people I like having hugs with, because (((hugs))).
I have made a few church frienemies over the years because I’m a girl, and girls are into drama. Now, sometimes I did have fights with my church friends, but we always made up after a few weeks. Not the same. Sometimes in life there are people who, for whatever reason, don’t like you, and other times, you don’t like them for valid reasons.
Frienemies happen because someone you aren’t really friends with, but know well enough to talk to after church about something you are both a part of, decides that they want to a) give you advice, b) rebuke you for whatever indiscretion or c) tries to get epic goss on you on many occasions and fails, often. These people are never going to be your friend, so move on.
The opposite sex
Some things I discovered too early on, really, is this. God is an “great” excuse for not wanting to date someone, or wanting to. My Bible College friends and I would lament over the phrase ‘But he said God told him…’ so many times I lost count. To avoid interacting with someone of the opposite gender, I have seen fake girlfriends, strong beliefs around being led to date someone in a few years time, pledges to the single life and waiting for The One.
What I also found was that once you have found someone you like, seemingly everyone around you will find fault with that person (in reality, we are all flawed, just some more than others). When things don’t work out, some people feel terribly sorry for you, you’ll definitely have a few I-told-you-sos and others rejoice that you are now single and can ‘prepare your heart’ for the right person.
I have only been out with guys who are Christian, or have grown up in the church, or have faith but don’t attend, so I don’t know any different. I also know that all of the advice I was given regarding relationships, love and sex is bogus and I threw it out of the (mental) window.
There are a lot of helping people in the church. I have met many a nurse or teacher or community worker this way. I think there is also a lot to be said for the opportunity to explore the creative arts through music, through art and design, and sometimes through interpretive dance.
Music and pop culture
I know a few people who threw out all their ‘secular’ music, and some who regret it. I know others who have left the church and happily passed it along. I have seen worship trends come and go, I have seen different versions of popular Christian sayings do the rounds too. And, for the record, I mostly can’t stand Christian music. I have some exceptions, which is mostly old school stuff (when I started listening to Christian music, dc Talk was already old school). I don’t really like Veggietales as much as what I did when I was a child. I take offense at some songs, others I really like. I hate repetition, but I hate learning new songs. Basically, when it comes to music, I am painful.
I have spent well over half my life doing Sunday School and youth group and ministries and working in a Christian environment. It hasn’t all been a bed of roses, but it has been fun for the most part. And I am really grateful, for all of it. Really, I am. I highly recommend reading Adrian Plass and his Sacred Diary series. They will change your heart, and leave you wanting to laugh and cry, all on the same page.