As I began to come into my new ministry skin, I was grieved by the lack of connection in the church for those that I served in my student ministry days. In increasing numbers, I found them disconnected, uninterested and put off by the Church. I could not make sense of this chasm. I spent more than a decade of my life pouring my heart and soul into teenagers and as they made their way through college, they were far from community.
This took a painful self-examination season, but what I discovered was hard. I found that in an attempt to connect and create avenues for students to find faith, I had inadvertently created caves for teenagers within the walls of church buildings. They loved youth activities. They wanted to go to camp. They even chose to spend school vacations with their peers on church trips. The adults were cool. The conversations were relevant and they even seemed to enjoy the Bible study.
But something changed when they tried to find a church home. For those that were even interested, they often reported that, “it’s just not the same.” It was from this place that I had to admit that in an attempt to keep them engaged, connected and out of trouble, I had participated in the great tragedy of student ministry. I had failed to help them connect to the greater body of the Body. Rather than helping them appreciate the ancient traditions, we created contemporary (and separate) spaces. Rather then teaching them to learn from adults that don’t always think like them, we created space and activities for them to huddle in teen packs.
It was from the grief of this experience, and the inability to make peace with my part in that history, that I committed to a ministry of connection. Ecclesia – Clear Lake was filled with 20 somethings. Many had come from student and para-church ministries that taught them about the love of belonging. I was determined to help them fall in love with the inter-generational calling of the Church. Fortunately for me, I was not alone in this passion.
Our Lead Pastor was a former student guru, and we embarked upon a season of intentionally pouring into these young adults as they found their place in the church. Our first group was made up of 12 of the most passionate. Many were recent college grads. Some were single, some married. Some were plugged in and serving in the community and others were hovering around the edges trying to figure this church thing out. We loved them all. We met twice a month and talked and studied and lived life.
Each of them was asked to have a mentor that they met with outside of the larger group. One of the young women in the group had known me for years. She asked if I would be willing to serve in this role for her. I was thrilled and terrified. By all accounts, she had it all together. She loved Jesus, she loved people. And she was so damn kind. What in the world did she think she was going to learn from me? For months, we met regularly and my admiration for her passion and story and life grew and grew. We shared our heart for people and in the next breath all of the things that we struggled with. We would talk about the things that inspire and infuriate us. And at the end of every conversation, I would say to myself this is CHURCH!
This was in 2009. We are almost a decade past that season. My friend has yet to live in the same state as I do for most of that time. And yet there is holy, sacred space that is carved out in our hearts for those that walk into the trenches of life with us. For those friends that hold your hand over email or text or Facebook and it feels they are sitting next to you in the best of days and the hardest of pain. With or without knowledge, the men and women that sat in the rooms of this group were doing that for me. I was in a formative stage, struggling with fragile broken wings. To this day, I can receive a call or message from one of these friends and I immediately am transported to a time when I can feel myself coming back to life. The death was falling away and a new life was being born.