On Faith and Friendship in Youth
by Pastor Mark Smith
Everyone can attest to the simple truth that our teen years are some of the most formable years in our entire lives. The memories I reflect on during my teens years are filled with the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. If that truth statement isn’t good enough to convince, maybe my two memories will jolt you back to similar experiences. Yes, I’ll start with an embarrassing story…
In all my adolescent teenage angst, the 15-year-old me (Mark) was sitting in my room plotting my route to my girlfriend’s house. My mom’s response of “no” would not do. The angst was too great, the music of emo-punk too loud, and my freshly dyed black, straightened hair and painted black nails must be seen! My mom went out that night, leaving me home by myself… a skateboard journey was bound to happen.
Once my mom left I began my trek. In case you haven’t skateboarded before, they are terrible transportation devices. Just awful. They are slow and getting any speed requires pumping your legs constantly. But it turns out that wasn’t my biggest problem.
Fifteen year old Mark had a very poor perception of distance. I lived in Canyon Park, a neighborhood in Bothell, while my girlfriend lived a whopping 13 miles away in northern Snohomish. Alas, my poor decisions led me to an all-night skateboard ride to Snohomish, only to end in a frantic phone call to my mom at 4 a.m. from a gas station. But that’s not even the most embarrassing part–I actually made it to her house, but it was so foggy I couldn’t recognize her driveway so I turned back and called my mom!! I’ve got more, but those will have to wait as a less embarrassing story is in order.
A Church Of Friends
When my parents got divorced, my dad began attending churches in the area and brought my sister and I to Sunday morning services. Before then, we didn’t attend church on any regular basis. So my understanding of church was something you went too, not a place to be known. Being a part of a church community was a foreign concept.
However, my entire concept of church changed one evening when my friends from High School invited me to their youth group. I still remember the surprise I experienced when I walked into the 6 p.m. youth group service. I didn’t think I would know anyone but to my surprise I recognized people from my school who I had classes with. I was encouraged because I knew more people than I thought, and they were encouraged because we now held a shared experience. Teens rely on shared experiences to begin friendships and commonalities. It’s easier to talk about one’s personal faith when an experience or shared moment is held in common.
This night was significant because the church now had personality. The notion that church was a place where I was a teenage foreigner no longer had any ground. It was here, among new-found friends that I experienced Jesus’ love for me and the beauty of His church. It came through the surprising hospitality of a youth group.
Anyone believing that youth group is an irrelevant ministry and unhelpful to the proclamation of the Gospel is incorrect. Teenagers are just as able to express, explain, and show the gospel as adults, we just find them sharing their faith within the bond of community and shared experiences. Perhaps they are on to something… see Luke 10:1-2.
A Church Of My Own
My favorite memory, however, was not my first night at youth group. My favorite memory is the Sunday morning I went to church and believed for the first time that this was my church. I no longer had the awkward waves and conversations with people I didn’t know, I had friends. I sat with friends my age, watched them take notes during the sermon, and apply the message in their lives as they talked about it after. I valued my church because it was no longer foreign but familial. A place of my own, of belonging, where fellow students became brothers and sisters.
Youth Nights For Friendships, Fun, and a Shared Experience
By God’s grace, I am not the only one who shares a memory like this. Hopefully, many more will be created by our own Hallows Youth! We believe Jesus makes the difference in all of life, and our hope is to provide opportunities for our youth to foster friendships, fun, and shared experiences with one another and also gospel-embracing adults. The beauty of the gospel is found amongst teens living and growing in their faith together. As we begin hosting more youth events, we hope you’ll pray with us in this direction and join us in the effort!
Pastor Mark leads our Hallows West Seattle Expression.