I had just finished speaking for the high school group at one of our weekly youth group meetings. Like usual, I was surrounded by the “O-MA-GA’s”, a group of freshman girls who were addicted to the youth ministry and constantly cackled “O-MA-GA” back and forth to each other. These were great girls, but they often got more attention than our newbies and wallflowers did. As the girls were talking a million miles a minute I noticed that one of the roughest kids in our city was coming up to talk to me. Ryan was the son of a local lawyer and had spent more time in court than his dad did. This kid yells to me (because I was being blocked by the “O-MA-GA” brigade) and says “Hey Nate, that was the best F&@#$%# church thing I’ve ever been to, thanks!” He smiled and walked out the door, while the “O-MA-GA” girls practically fainted at the dropping of the F-bomb, yet they were conscious long enough to see my response. I replied to Ryan,“Thanks for coming man!”
My response was less than satisfactory to the youth group insiders, and I get that. I drove home that night thinking about my response and whether or not I handled it the right way. Beyond jail, drugs, alcohol and an anti-church mindset, Ryan had a good heart underneath a crusty exterior. As I replayed the “F-bomb” comment over again in my mind, I heard a statement of thankfulness from a kid who doesn’t offer words like that very often. I know my message that night was not promoting the lifestyle Ryan was living, yet he said thank you.
Language is a funny thing to me. Our words can be life giving or life sucking according to the book of James and as my friend Fil says, “We tend to curse more than we bless”. While profane, Ryan spoke words of life that night in response to a message about a new way of living. What if I would have responded, “watch your language”? I think scolding Ryan at that point would have diluted the words he heard from scripture that night. I’ve messed up a bunch in ministry, but I think I got this one right.
(The kid’s name wasn’t Ryan. Regardless of his real name, he is lurking around every church and Young Life club trying to figure out if he can get in.)
For us all to chew on:
Do we in our church and ministries put Christian expectations on non-Christian people? Is it ok to have “multiple standards” in our youth ministries?