I was the sixth youth leader in three years to work with students at my first church. Young and ignorant, I was expected to take the ten wounded high school and middle school students in my youth group and transform their sorry little group into some kind of super group. After immediately splitting the high school and middle school students our middle school program sky rocketed and became the place to be on Wednesday nights.
I was baffled, however, that the high school group was still fairly unchanged with just a handful of students in weekly attendance. My questions were answered, however, when I discovered the truth about our floundering group.
Her name was Angie (not her real name).
Angie was the school outcast, rejected by all and feared by most. She was that one girl in school that everyone ignored but when a student did venture to did speak to her, Angie would launch into a emotional tailspin, screaming and yelling all the way down the hall. If her personality wasn’t bad enough, her appearance left you dealing with a gag reflex. Poor Angie didn’t bathe enough and you could often times smell her before you saw her. I don’t know if she ever brushed her teeth but when she spoke she had these lip-booger-looking things that would stick to her lips and move with each annunciation. It has been almost two decades and just thinking about those lip boogers makes my mouth water in a Pavlovian pre-vomit mode!
The worst part was that Angie was one of the most committed students in my youth group and was literally there to serve every time the doors were open. When visiting students would walk in our doors and see Angie, I knew it would be their last time. It sickens me to say this now, but the day Angie graduated high school was much anticipated by yours truly and a long time coming. I looked straight into Angie’s eyes as I shared my exit strategy with our seniors. In fact, I made the exit strategy up just for Angie.
“Now Angie,” I said in my best pastoral voice this twenty-five year old kid could muster, “You can come to youth group through the summer but in September you need to go to the college group”.
September could not come fast enough and with great joy I blessed Angie (like all good pastors do) and kicked her to the curb (figuratively of course) thanking my disgruntled college pastor all the way. Within two weeks our group started to grow but to my chagrin two more students showed up who were nearly as repulsive to their peers as Angie had been to hers. That is when the words of Jesus were carved upon my heart, “if you will not love the least of these”. I had secluded my love for only those students who could make an impact on their campus and had ignored those “Angie’s” in my group. It became crystal clear to me at that point that ministry in the name of Christ works from the bottom of the social food chain and then works up.
Youth Ministry starts at the bottom of the barrel.
So often we are taught to go for the jocks, cheerleaders and upper echelon students, to the neglect of that teen sitting all alone and rejected in our own youth room. No matter what kind of youth ministry I have ever had since then, I have come to realize one thing, “There’s always an Angie”.
Early in my youth ministry days the “Angie’s” were the bane of my existence, but I have learned that it is not the “healthy that need a doctor but the sick”. And the “sick” usually need more from us than what we traditionally have given in youth ministry. We started using Life Hurts, God Heals with these non-typical students and found that many of them found hope and freedom from their brokenness.
It has been years since Angie was in my group and she is still one of my committed prayer partners and I am still in correspondence with her unlike many of my “A” crowd kids”. Over the years I have learned that I was not God’s gift to Angie but that she was God’s gift to me. Angie has taught me to not only embrace but pursue and welcome the dirty kids, the geeks, the outcasts, the rejects and the kids with other hurts habits and hang ups. After all, aren’t we all what Brennan Mannning calls a bunch of “ragamuffins” anyway?
Today my youth group is filled with every social group you can imagine and yes Angie is there in full force!
Remember “there’s always an Angie” and when I think of an “A” crowd kid I remind myself that “A” stands for Angie! Start your ministry with her and thank God that He has counted you worthy to of His great gift to your perspective.