“But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” – Luke 18:16 (NIV)
The faith of our youth is important to the church and its future. It will be up to these teenagers to bear Jesus’ light to the world in the next few years. I have been grateful to be part of developing the next generation of believers through The River’s youth group.
When I joined as a volunteer during the summer of 2013, the youth group was in a huge transition, and it felt like a trial-by-fire situation. Kyle Guerrero had just stepped down as the youth pastor and Brett Bymaster became the volunteer director. I approached Brett and offered to lead discussion groups for the high school students on Sunday mornings.
For the most part, I did not know what I was doing. I was given a binder and simply told to find a curriculum and run with it. After a few weeks of running youth ministry, I became really discouraged for a variety of reasons. I felt my role was not impactful, and, in addition, I usually led groups alone, which made me feel like an outsider on the team. I was also feeling lost, dealing with a host of emotional issues, and in a season of doubting God. Not to mention that working with some of the students was extremely difficult. I felt really disconnected from the ministry and often dreaded the Sundays where I had to lead discussion groups. After the summer ended, I decided to step down from leading the Sunday group out of frustration.
Despite all my struggles, God did not let me off the hook. He still wanted me to be part of the youth group, but I was unsure how that would look. During this time I didn’t understand what God was doing in my life, or whether He was doing anything at all.
But I continued to hang around the youth program, even though I was not actively participating. Around this time, the youth ministry was starting up a Friday fellowship night, so I began helping out whenever I could. During the fall, I began to lead worship on Friday nights and even took some extra time to mentor a student. However, deep in my heart, youth group was still just a Friday night thing, something to fill in my “ministry” slot.
I continued to feel this way until the new year, when Brett approached me and asked if I wanted to go on the winter youth retreat. As I thought about it, I recognized that, at the heart of it all, I was unsure of how to commit or “go all in” with ministry. My indecisive heart was the problem, and I realized that such an investment meant making some sacrifices. This was a crossroads for me. I could either sit on the sidelines and simply complete an obligation—or I could take a risk, a leap of faith.
I decided to go to the retreat, not just as a gesture of participation but also as a signal of my willingness to further invest. The retreat turned out to be much more exciting than I had anticipated and was instrumental to my commitment. What was originally a weekend with a bunch of teenagers eventually became an amazing time with the youth ministry. I made a decision to go fully into what I did. It no longer was merely something to fill the “ministry” slot.
I have learned a lot about what it means to serve God through the youth, mostly because it can be pretty demanding of my time. As a twenty-four-year-old, I have found that dedicating several Fridays a month to spending time with teenagers is quite a commitment when folks my age usually go out and have fun on the weekends. There are also extra activities for the youth, which I try to fully engage in, usually at the cost of my own personal time.
But while there is cost to ministry, there is also personal reward. I have learned a lot about God, even in the context of a younger crowd. The same messages we give to our youth are still relevant to me and challenge me to think about Jesus from the perspective of a young believer. A lot of what I have learned are lessons I failed to learn in my own youth. Sometimes even the most basic messages, like putting others’ needs before my own or hearing about the radical love of Jesus, have helped me relearn my faith.
It is also pretty inspirational to see the next generation of Christians come up. Sometimes in the larger church we fail to see the faith of teenagers as something valuable. But if there is anything the church needs these days, it is more risk-taking youth who are willing to give their all for Jesus. I am honored to be part of a movement where God is growing and transforming youth in radical ways.
Have you struggled with "going all in" to something God has called you to? What have been the costs and the rewards of giving yourself to ministry or service?
Alex Ly began attending The River in the summer of 2012. Prior to this, he studied at UC Davis, where he received degrees in History and Political Science. He was also heavily involved in the InterVarsity chapter. He currently is a bass player on the worship team and a volunteer leader for the youth ministry. Some of the things he enjoys about The River are its emphasis on missions, diversity, and a holistic approach to faith. Two of his most impactful experiences at the church have been participating in the young adult group, led by Mark Phifer-Houseman, and receiving inner healing through The Healing Path.