Last Sunday evening we had our regular church youth group meeting. Not much was really different than any other week, but I came away feeling encouraged and thinking we might just be doing something right. Our leaders have been taking turns and our friend Brett Huntsman was the leader for the evening. While Brett always has good games in mind that include a lesson or that reinforce the message, that wasn’t what encouraged me. Brett also brought some thought provoking and challenging words to our young people and engaged them in conversation more than most of us (even the pastors) are typically able to do. But that wasn’t what encouraged me either. My source of encouragement came from something small enough that most people, other than Todd, our youth leader and I, probably didn’t even notice.
At the end of each meeting our youth follow the custom generations of Wesleyan meetings by holding hands in a circle, arms crossed, right over left, and praying around the circle. Each week we encourage these young people to pray out loud, even if it is a one sentence prayer thanking God for the weather. Many of them have never prayed out loud before. Many do not pray at home. For most of them, it is a frightening proposition to make themselves vulnerable in front of their peers. I still remember what it was like for me more than thirty years ago, when our youth group did the same thing. My pulse skyrocketed as the prayers came around the circle to me. But, I also remember that was the place where I learned to pray in public, not to an audience, but to God and not be afraid (much) of what others thought.
Normally our group, now as well as thirty years ago, prays around the circle and about half the kids just get skipped over, they opt out by squeezing the hand of the person next to them. It’s just too scary. But the other half, mostly leaders and a few of the braver, more outgoing youth, lift up prayers of thanksgiving for the weather, for our group, and also prayers of support and encouragement for one another. Sunday wasn’t all that different, except for one small thing. The circle was the same, and the prayers were meaningful, but as we went around the circle I noticed that very few kids were opting out. Far more of them than usual were stepping out of their comfort zone and praying out loud, even those who often do not. In the end, nearly every (though not all) young person in the circle prayed some kind of prayer, some simple and some quite meaningful.
It was a little thing, but I noticed and it encouraged me. Perhaps God is at work in this group of young people who are struggling through a difficult and sometimes awkward stage of life. This is what we as pastors and youth leaders pray for. That God would reach young hearts and reveal himself to them. Most of the time God doesn’t show his hand, sometimes it’s years until we meet an adult church leader who tells us of what God was doing for them when they were youths many years earlier. But Sunday night was different. God gave us a peek, a hint that he was at work among our youth. And I am encouraged.
Now, if only we could see it happen with our adults.