As I’ve mentioned before, we tend to move frequently. As a result, we’ve visited numerous churches, from the tiny one room steeple to the multi-level mega church. In many ways, I’ve become a “church student”. I’d like to think this is due to the evangelist in me, but perhaps it’s my insatiable curiosity. Regardless of the reason, when I enter a new environment, a new sub-culture if you will, I want to know what works. When you walk into some churches, it’s like you’re returning home after an extended absence. Others leave you cold and prickly. And it seems like what is experienced in the Sunday morning pews trickles into the Wednesday night youth gathering.
I’ve been involved in childen’s church for over twelve years, and I’ve always said you can tell the health of the church by the behavior of the students. Now, this might be a tough concept to wrap your head around. You might even strongly disagree. I mean, seriously, kids are about as predictable as a curve ball on a windy day. They go from giggles to tears to all out war at the slightest provocation, and there’s no holding back. If it enters their brain it’s gonna spill out. Likely at the most inconvenient of times. Which is why they are such great litmus tests, because not only are they emotionally sporadic, they’re also insatiable sponges, ever absorbing the attitudes, ideas, and thought processes of others, primarily their parents.
For years when I noticed a rather self-centered youth group I held the senior pastor responsible. My reasoning was, if it’s taught on the pulpit, it will be taught in the home. But then we spent time in a biblically accurate, love-focused church (on the pulpit, anyway) with the most active, coldest, cliquish youth group I’ve ever seen. I watched week after week as the pastor tried to combat this lack of love in his sermons. I listened to the youth intern talk about how “bad she felt” watching it happen. And yet, despite all these good intentions, nothing changed.
Fast forward a few years. Now we are part of one of the most loving–genuinely loving–churches I’ve ever been to. At every level. It’s like there are a bunch of eyes scouring the place looking for that newbie, that person sitting by themselves in need of prayer. And if you happen to cry? Whew! Watch out, chances are you’ll be enveloped in a hug before you even realized the tears are falling. But what impresses me most is the youth group. They are the most outreach-focused youth group I have seen. They go on mission trips, visit homeless shelters, cook meals for the residents of these shelters and for the church body as a whole, and consistently work as a group to bring Christ to their schools. In a nutshell, they’re others focused. (Normally I try not to talk about my church, but hey, if it’s working, I’m going to share it.)
At first, their behavior shocked me. When I watched a large herd of kids surround the youth group newbies with smiles and introductions.
“Hi, I’m Stacy.”
“And I’m Jenna.”
“Oooh, I just love your hair! Can I touch it?” (This is the teenage equivalent to, ‘let’s be friends.’)
The new girl, used to being shoved aside, put off, and ignored, stares at the floor, not quite sure how to respond. Her eyes dart up briefly, long enough for her to mumble a quick, “Hi.” Then they’re back to the floor, zeroing in on that tiny loose thread being worked over by her big toe.
Watching this interaction over time got me thinking–what made this youth group so compassionate when other youth groups were so self-centered.
This morning as I got ready to join our youth pastor at a local grocery store to buy food so that his students could cook dinner—using money donated by the youth—for a local family shelter, it hit me. Compassion is both taught and caught. Our kids do more outreach than any other youth group I’ve known. In fact, most youth groups are all about the fun. And I think the intentions are good. Maybe if we’re a bit more exciting, have better, louder music (okay, so our youth has some pretty loud music, but that’s beside the point.) whatever, more kids will come.
Maybe. But what’s more important—to have a gym packed with kids learning to be more self-centered or a small class room filled with kids learning to love.
I’m going to play a video that I found very touching, and challenging. I disagree with the stated goal of being happy. I don’t agree that happiness should be our primary focus. For the Christian, holiness is our ultimate goal. But I do agree that compassion can and should be taught. I also believe that compassion is a holy emotion. It was compassion and love that drove our Savior to the cross.
There are so many hurting kids in our world. Are you part of the solution or part of the problem, because every casual word, every momentary choice has consequences. Choices. We make a million a day. To buy that Big Mac or donate a buck or two, to go to a movie or spend time at a youth center, to pause and smile or hurry by—choices.
I heard this song for the first time yesterday, and even though it’s not my style, the words really resonated. Looking For Angels.
Want to teach your children/students to be givers, not takers? Want to help them get their eyes off themselves and onto others?
1) Find organizations that reach out to others that they can get involved in. Sunday a highlighted a wonderful movement that has transformed participating teens into passionate, compassionate givers all across the country. You can also take them to your local food pantry or shelter.
2) When you see a homeless man or woman, stop and engage. Shake their hand then watch their face light up as you demonstrate the love of Christ and let them know that no, they are not disgusting. They are children of God in need of a Savior.
3) Pray for others, out loud and invite your kids to join you.
4) Jump on their bandwagon, even if it seems to be wobbling down a dead-end road on three wheels. (In plain language, if they come up with an idea on how to bless others, help them make it happen, focusing more on the process and the lesson learned then the result.)
5) Pray for their heart. Wow, this is a biggie.
6) Actively and consistently combat negative attitudes, words, and judgments. I have been known to jump up, grab my Bible and a computer (to educate against the misconception) in the middle of dinner and you’ll frequently hear me spout Ephesians 4:29 followed by the question, “Now did that statement you just made build up or tear down?” Yeah, I’ll get an eye roll, but her reaction is temporary. Her mindset is long-term.