One universal truth of teen life is that NOTHING is done alone. Getting ready for a particular event, the one question I’m always asked; “Who else is gonna be there?” Teenagers identify themselves through their peers. A classic example of this is the pod of students from my church that identify themselves as the “loner group.” Hmm… anyone see the contradiction here? Not if you’re a teenager. It makes perfect sense. “We” and “me” are interchangeable terms. So what happens when you break off from the herd? First let’s examine the herd.
Herd Instinct-noun- The impulse or tendency toward clustering or acting in a group
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. This is where my call to youth ministry begins.
What it used to be like-
So, as a shy 7th grader attending youth for the first few times, I can tell you it was more about “fitting in” than it was about God for me. Thus begins my cycle of call. So why does my story begin here? If you think you’re going to hear some feel good story about how I’ve wanted to serve God since I was 12 years old, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that my call began in my fall.
Being an adolescent growing up in the 1980’s, I had two primary motivations for existing: A girl named Caroline, and Heavy Metal music. I was a late bloomer, too tongue tied for any real success with girls, and had been relegated to tenor saxophone in the band instead of drums. I had pretty much given up on being one of the cool kids, and so it was just a short time later that I discovered pot. I also discovered that pot did 2 things for me: it changed the way I felt inside, and it helped me fit in. Win, win… By the time I reached high school I had moved up the social ladder, joined a band and experimented with other drugs and alcohol. The party life of a traveling musician was surreal, and at the tender young age of 16 I was spending the weekends traveling to different cities to play in nightclubs, and spending my lunch hour getting high. God was nowhere in the picture.
In 1990, a 21 year old grizzled veteran of the rock music circuit, I decided to leave the band in Boulder Colorado after two near fatal brushes with cocaine. I came back home to Arkansas with my tail between my legs, and got a job as a bartender. ‘No more hard drugs for me! I’ll just drink like everybody else.’ Thus began my long painful relationship with alcohol. In the beginning it was fun- Alcohol was my spiritual experience, and it was my solution. Although my drug of choice had changed many times over the years, my problem was still the same, it was me. That 12 year old shy little boy that just wanted to be liked was still in hiding inside me and still scared to death. During some 26 years of active addiction I had destroyed relationships and had lost nearly everything… I was hopeless…
What it’s like now-
“But God…” Ms. Jonnie would say, as the pastor paused for dramatic effect.
Laying in fetal position on the floor of my bedroom all alone in the house my second wife had left me in, I prayed the first honest prayer of my life that didn’t actually involve “God, if you’ll just get me outta this one, I promise…” No, this prayer went something like; “God, I can’t do this anymore, will you please help me?”
And then I heard an audible voice in my mind say: “GET UP! It’s time to make some changes.” After about 2 months in AA and the fog finally starting to lift, I decided to go church hunting. I knew I couldn’t go back to my parent’s church. I had to strike out on my own and find my own place to belong. I wasn’t opposed to the Methodist Church, but for some reason I felt that the only authentic brand of Christianity was happening in the non-denominational churches. Even though I had been baptized and confirmed in the same church growing up, I realized I did not know who God was. I had to find Him, and I had to find Him now! After trying out a few churches, I had heard about a little church called Journey. It was said that folks had tattoos at Journey, and that it was a haven for heaven’s rejects. So I donned my khaki shorts and polo and walked in one Sunday.
I was horribly overdressed… But I knew I had arrived! I had found a church family that didn’t care about how I looked or what I had done, they only cared that I showed up. It wasn’t until several months later that I was standing in the foyer before service that I noticed the Cross & Flame logo on a brochure out of the corner of my eye! What an ironic twist… “Ya’ll sure don’t act very Methodist” I thought. Sometime later the pastor had asked me if I would mind sharing my testimony (this story you are reading) with the congregation and I said yes. A couple of weeks later during the after church social time in the Café, the youth pastor Barry comes up to me with his vertical fin spiked Mohawk and says; “Hey man, I just wanted you to know that after hearing your story I think I received a word from the Lord about you helping out with our youth ministry. No pressure, just think it over?” I said I would pray about it while planning in my mind the best way I could think of to let him down easy. After all, I was flattered that he would ask me…
Then something funny happened. I actually did pray about it, and I kept thinking about some of those pivotal moments in my life when I really could have benefitted from having a mentor to guide me.
And, what the heck, right? There’s nothing that these kids can do that I haven’t done 100 times! I felt God saying to me; “Who better to help these young people than someone who’s been there?”
Now the shy 7th grade boy gets to share his experience, strength, and hope with others just like him every week. That was almost 4 years ago, and I thank you Barry, because I LOVE youth ministry! As the prodigal story goes, my loving Father was waiting with my robe and sandals saying; “What took you so long?” And the truth be known, I’ll never grow up completely, which is precisely why I know that I am called.
Youth Director Midland Heights UMC
Ft. Smith, AR.
I’m Vini. I’m 41 years old, father of two, and the Youth Director of Midland Heights United Methodist Church. KADASH is the name of the youth ministry here at Midland Heights. KADASH is the Hebrew word meaning; “to make holy, to set apart.” The reason I chose this word is because I pastor inner city kids who sometimes feel “less than”. My goal through this ministry is to empower young lives by a relationship with the God that loves them. Be Blessed!