Sara came to youth group committed to three things: 1) Never make eye contact with any adult no matter how hard they try to connect with you. 2) Never leave without professing your undying hatred for youth group. 3) Complain, about anyone or anything.
I’m sure you’re wondering the same things I did: Why is she at youth group if she hates it so much? Who is she angry with? Are her parents forcing her to be here?
The first time Sara attended youth group I could tell she was angry and resentful. She wasn’t trying to hide it. So, I approached her. Our first conversation went like this…
“What are you thinking right now?”
“You don’t want to know what I’m thinking.”
“You look like it’s really important to you. I’d love to know what you’re thinking.”
“Okay. I’m thinking all of this is fake. You’re fake.”
“What is fake about me?”
“You’re here to reach out to students, to show them that Jesus loves them, but you don’t know the first thing about most of these kids. If you did, you wouldn’t even want to be around them. And the first time they break a rule or mess up, they won’t be welcomed here anymore.”
“Is this how you feel about all Christians?”
“It’s not how I feel. It is reality.”
“I’ve felt the same way about Christians. And I’ve lived in the reality you’re describing and I hated it. Sometimes it’s really difficult to be associated with Christians.”
“But you’re a Christian!”
“I am a Christian. I won’t hold your mistakes against you if you promise not to hold being a Christian against me.”
“Okay. I’ll try, but I’m never coming back here.”
That was the end of our first conversation and the beginning of our transformation. I say “our transformation” because Sara wasn’t the only one transformed by the love of Jesus. We all were. And here’s the truth about transformation: it doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, Sara let her guard down. She came to youth group less angry and more open. I came to youth group less worried about her anger and more open to her honesty. Sometimes she would disappear for weeks and I thought we had lost our opportunity to be a part of her life. Then, all of a sudden I’d see a sign on my office door that said, “Sara was here.”
Some students experience transformation at an event, at a specific time or moment of prayer. But for Sara, her transformation and relationship with Jesus was a series of unsure interactions, unfiltered conversations, and hesitation. Somewhere along that journey she began to trust the Christians in her life, including me. Somewhere along her journey she found Jesus and committed herself to him.
By the love and grace of God, youth group became the community where she could approach God honestly. We didn’t ask her to stop being angry or ask her to say a prayer. We didn’t ask her why she missed youth group. We asked her what she was thinking. We asked her to be honest. We asked her to stick with us, even though we were Christians.
One night during a youth event Sara found me. Our conversation that night was much different than our first conversation…
“I hated this place and I hated you when I first came here.”
“When I’m honest, no one gets mad at me or tries to change me. People listen to me here. Christians have always given up on my family. We’ve never been good enough. They’ve always asked us to leave.”
“I’m glad you’re here, and I don’t want you to leave.”
“I’m not leaving. A lot of my friends come here now because they feel loved here, and they don’t feel judged. I want them to experience the love of Jesus the way I have.”
Sara taught me this: transformation is not only happening in students who respond to a lesson, who engage in a prayer, or fall at the altar. Transformation also happens in the students who say they hate you and they’re never coming back. So, don’t give up on the Sara in your youth group. Sure, she might leave. But you never know what Jesus may be doing on the inside.