A Reflection On Youth Ministry through SLAM
This last week I had the privilege of helping to facilitate Hometown SLAM in Hilliard, Ohio. Although I’ve heard testimony after testimony about how SLAM has impacted my roommates and friends at the Institute, I’d never participated in it myself. I was thrilled (and slightly nervous) when I got the call from Derek Bargatze, a SLAM coordinator, to ask if I might be able to help lead worship and “late nights” (i.e. fun times for teenagers) for the week. After this last week, I can see why SLAM students come from all over the country to serve and grow in knowledge of the Lord through this program. I can say with full confidence that the experience they will receive is going to be rooted in truth, love, and redemption.
My last experience with youth ministry was when I was 19 years old. I was fresh out of high school, and found myself leading a small group of middle school girls. I was still working out my faith at the time and really had no idea what advice I could give them; other than to stay in prayer, read their Bibles, and continue to develop their relationship with the Lord. There was an insecurity in the exchange: I wanted to be able to encourage them, but didn’t quite know what I was talking about myself. “It’s okay,” I was told, “We are all working out our faith.” While this isn’t necessarily false, it left me with little guidance as to how I could sharpen other students. There was a disconnect from what I was learning each Sunday with how I could apply it in obedience to my everyday life and exchange with the younger students. Sadly, I don’t think this approach is uncommon in youth-ministry. While young leaders like myself were enthusiastic about getting to know the Lord and doing good, we were still leading by what we knew rather than letting God’s Word guide us.
What I’ve discovered during the last year and half I’ve been at the Institute is that often what I thought I knew about God’s Word was more derivative of the culture I’d come from than actual truth. Even my understanding of right and wrong was based on my perception. I wasn’t able to stand on the authority of God’s Word. I’ve had so many amazing conversations with fellow students and friends at the Institute who are also growing in their understanding of who God is, and seeing it strengthen and support their opportunities for ministry.
I was so inspired by my roommate Chelsie Waldron this last week, who returned to her hometown of Hilliard to help facilitate the week. We worked together to lead service projects alongside her former youth leader, Irma Chon. Irma testified to how far Chelsie has developed and now thrived as a result of her education at the Institute. About Chelsie, Irma says, "It was such a joy for me to have Chelsie be a part of the hometown SLAM team! To have her come back to her home church and hometown was such a blessing. I have known her since she was nine years old. I have seen such growth in her the past few years. The spiritual gift of administration that Chelsie uses for the Lord has really matured. I see her allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and direct. I see in her a boldness to pray and worship in a way that I have never seen in her before. Her laughter and caring and loving spirit is what I see when I’m around her." Once ridden with anxiety and depression, this week I watched Chelsie shine as she seamlessly organized late-night games, kept people on schedule, and bonded with students through her love and enthusiasm. There is a joy and a confidence in her that she carries as a result of God’s Word.
I was moved to tears several times this week when I thought about the peace I felt in connection to knowing God's Word. Rather than an insecure, fragmented understanding of God, we could lead with confidence as a team because together we were devoted to knowing God’s Word (not just taking a shot in the dark). I felt the Lord’s presence as I recounted with our small group of high-school girls how the Lord had called me and led me to serve him. At the end of the week, each of the girls in our small group had something to say about how the Lord had impacted them through their service projects. One student talked specifically about how she was able to encourage a child she met after they’d been teased by their peers. She spoke to the sort of value this child had and the righteousness she felt called to in helping them experience the love the Lord had for them.
Together, our team and the SLAM students were able to testify through our stories to the righteousness Brandon spoke about in connection to 2 Peter 3:13. These testimonies were not just the result of our own revelation or cultural understanding, but were connected to a careful study of the Word. As a result, students were able to finish out the week knowing that righteousness develops as they practice obedience to God’s Word through love of their neighbor.