One year ago, I reached a major turning point in my life when I was asked to help out with a youth retreat, called The Mix, with my home church in Athens. I thought that it would just be a one time thing, but boy… was I wrong.
After that weekend, I felt a very clear calling from God to continue volunteering as a youth leader, and it has since become one of the most important parts of my life. I have helped lead a small group of high school guys every Sunday night in Athens with my very awesome co-leader.
This past weekend was this year’s “The Mix” retreat, and my one year anniversary of starting youth ministry. I got the privilege of leading 14 high school guys through an amazing couple of days. The weekend consisted of three main sessions with all of the 2,000+ students, and small group discussions after each one.
The stage hosts were great and did an awesome job of getting the students hyped and keeping them interested. They had dance battles, mini-challenges, and lip sync performances by the students. Of course, I’m sure handing out free stuff and food helped. They even shot donuts out of t-shirt cannons!
They didn’t forget about us leaders though. After playing what seemed like endless Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, they pulled out a song especially for the youth pastors and small group leaders – Don’t Stop Believin’!
The hosts said grab a leader and your air guitar, to which I was immediately mosh pitted by all of the high and middle school boys. They almost tackled me to the ground! Then we all rocked out to Journey together – definitely a highlight of the weekend for me.
The worship team was incredible as well. One of my favorite parts was watching my students during worship. I love seeing people impacted by music, and seeing my guys lifting their hands up, swaying, and just really getting into the songs was a very special thing. It’s not often I get to see a visible impact of God in them.
We had small groups after the main sessions where we discussed what we heard during the message, and how it impacted each of us. Normally, getting high school guys to answer questions is like pulling teeth, but they all had great questions and were really trying to apply the message to their lives.
I even got a lot out of one of the sermons. The speaker, Reed Moore, talked about how God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things, and how He uses broken, seemingly unqualified people to further His kingdom. I definitely felt like a broken, unqualified person to lead a group of high schoolers, I still do sometimes, but looking back on this year has made me realize even more that God can use anyone, even me, to minister to others. How freaking awesome is that?!
The major theme from this weekend was how we sometimes have a misunderstood view of what God is really like. Some see Him as a harsh judge, waiting to punish you if you break a rule. Or a lofty deity, who just kind of sits up in heaven on a giant throne watching us and not really getting involved. There are so many God-views that cause us to misunderstand who God is, when in reality, He is much closer to a father figure than anything else.
I had a great conversation about this with one student in particular. During the last session, the speaker, of course, called for people to put their faith in Jesus, and he stood up!
Later that night, back at the host home, we talked about the sermon and I helped him process through what happened. I asked him if there was anything specific in the message that he felt stood out to him that caused him to respond, and he just excitedly said “Everything!” He said that he couldn’t really say what he was feeling, but he felt moved to pursue God more. It reminds me of the phrase my pastor always uses to describe someone being moved by the Holy Spirit: “I can’t explain it, but I can’t deny it.”
He had been going to church for all his life, but had never really though much about his faith. He always viewed God as judge ready to punish people when they step out of line, but the message shifted his God-view from a harsh judge to a loving father.
With this realization, he told me that he wanted to start reading his bible more and hear what it has to say about God and who He is. I was so excited for him and I encouraged him with this verse: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6. This is one that my small group leader always uses which is a promise from God himself, that if we seek Him out, and long to learn about him, He will be faithful to that and fulfill us.
Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing God work in the hearts of these students. Seeing his eagerness to dive into the Word and make his faith his own was priceless and an answer to my prayer to have at least one significant conversation with a student this weekend.
I think that I will eventually run out of adjectives to describe how much I love spending time with them, and getting to know them. Whether we are singing our hearts out at a retreat, hanging out playing cards, or I’m getting absolutely crushed in Super Smash Bros., I can’t think of anything that I would rather be doing.
I can’t wait to see what God has planned for me and for my students.
Here’s to another incredible year.