One of my greatest joys as a youth minister has been getting alongside those boisterous kids who have little to no grasp about acting according to the cultural norms of church-goers.
These are the ones whom God ushers through the doors of our churches at a million miles an hour to burst through our comfort zones with about as much subtlety as a bull in a china shop. They often energetically blunder their way through our church gatherings in a way that causes many an older persons’ blood pressure to escalate in anticipation of what they might do next.
As a 14-year-old first timer at youth group, I was definitely one of these rowdy kids. Compared to most of the church kids present on any given Friday night, I was a little rough around the edges. I had a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm for youth group but was often a bit of a ‘loose cannon’ in what I said and did. I didn’t deliberately misbehave— I was just a naïve kid on the journey towards maturity and not yet at his destination.
Fast-forward 20 years and I’m still not at the destination! But looking back over those years I’ve been given the opportunity to journey alongside more than a few rowdy kids that God has sent my way. During this time, one of the things I’ve noticed is that because of their sometimes less-than-polite approach to life, the rowdy kids can often make us Christians feel uncomfortable. We love that they are at church with us—after all, where better for them to be? But we’re not quite sure how to take them and their not-so-subtle way of asserting themselves into the fold.
So, how do we love the rowdy kids, even when we can plainly see that their words and actions are sometimes not quite in line with how we know Jesus instructs us to live? Here are a couple of my reflections:
Remember 1 Corinthians 12-13
From time to time I’ve observed well-meaning Christians undervalue rowdy kids as members of the body of Christ simply because of their unconventional behaviour. But in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul points out that being a part of the family of believers is not about conforming to a set of ideal behaviours but rather it’s about being adopted through the blood of Christ— no matter how you’ve acted.
Because rowdy kids are equally valid members of the body of Christ, we ought to show them love, as Paul goes on to flesh out in 1 Corinthians 13 (particularly verses 4-7). We ought to show them patience and kindness, not letting their uncouth ways cause us to be proud because we (or our kids) manage to have more palatable behaviour than they do. We ought to keep no record of their blunders but instead actively seek to build them up, appreciating what they bring to the community— which is often a surprising amount! They have a multitude of gifts to offer the body; for example, when their enthusiasm and energy are directed in a positive way it can be contagious, building momentum and excitement in those around them.
But the benefits for a family of believers are even broader than this. As they blunder their way through church life, it affords everyone else an opportunity to grow— not simply as we exercise the fruit of the spirit towards them but as they cause us to reflect on our own expectations of people and how those expectations do or don’t line up with God’s actual priorities for his people.
Remember it’s a journey—run it with them
Sometimes I’ve seen Christians question a rowdy kid’s salvation because of something they have said or done. We can get so caught up in a moment of indiscretion that we lose sight of the bigger picture — that they, like all of us, are on an unfinished journey towards sanctification. That’s not to say that we should be okay with sin in the lives of our brothers and sisters — not at all! But we must remember that we all make blunders from time to time!
What the rowdy kid needs is not another person looking down on them for doing the wrong thing, rather, they need advocates. They need big brothers and sisters in Christ who remember that their salvation is by grace through faith— not through good behaviour. They need older Christians who will not just point out their wrongdoing, but who will pray with them, get alongside them and model what a life of grace and repentance looks like; encouraging and empowering them to do their best for the sake of Christ out of appreciation of what he has done for them.
As they run full-pelt through life, rowdy kids need more mature Christians on the journey with them — not standing on the sideline yelling at them to slow down. They need faithful people to be running alongside them, humbly pointing out the obstacles along the road and graciously helping them get back up again when they go right ahead and stumble over those obstacles anyway! What they need are advocates who will recognise and uphold their value as members of the body of Christ and who will love and get alongside them for the journey.