I’m thankful for my “home” church in Whittier, California. In addition to giving a 21-year old his first shot at full-time ministry, it’s where I gave my life to Jesus in high school and where I met my wife, Rachel.
But it’s also where I was taught not to doubt. It’s where I was taught that struggles and set-backs where a sign of spiritual weakness. It’s where I was taught that a good youth pastor somehow manages to develop teenagers who don’t doubt, don’t struggle and don’t have set-backs.
It’s where I was taught that God expects our spiritual journey to look something like this:
It was almost as if grace was only present at the moment of salvation, but once you were saved, there was little room for it. I know for certain that this wasn’t part of the theology of my church, but it was prominent in how Christians were expected to live out their faith, whether they were mature adults or teenagers. I embraced that way of thinking, leading and teaching. And I wish I hadn’t.
Because the reality is that our spiritual journey (and especially the spiritual journey of teenagers) looks more like this:
our spiritual journey is a messy, squiggly, path. It’s full of doubts, full of struggles, and full of set-backs. When you embrace the squiggle, you embrace the wonderful work of sanctification that God is doing in each of your students. When you embrace the squiggle, you also embrace the reality that this process looks entirely different for everybody.
Lazy youth workers don’t embrace the squiggle. Instead, they simply teach God’s ideals and expect their students to live up to them. Embracing the squiggle takes work, it takes the willingness to journey alongside teenagers on their messy, doubt-filled, struggle infested journey.
If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1988 and embrace the squiggle on my very first day of youth ministry. My ministry experience, and the experience of the teenagers in my ministry would be glad I did!