These next several blog posts will cover the next year of our lives. As of this moment, there are only a handful of people who know about the events of that year, those who walked through it with us and those we trusted enough to share our pain, frustration, and anger. I can count those people on my two hands. There are many reasons why we haven’t talked about it, but mainly for unity. So why share it now?
Because as hard as it is for me to fathom, my story is not an isolated event. Versions of my story are being lived out… at this very moment… in churches across this country. Stories FAR worse than mine. As far as my story goes, I’m sure there are two different versions of this narrative. I can only share mine, but I can also verify my side of the story with witnesses, emails, and Facebook messages. Something I’ve already been forced to do because some of this story, quite honestly, is hard to believe. I’m sharing it now because years have passed, perspective has been gained, and forgiveness has taken place. BUT, also because truth is important, accountability (ESPECIALLY in leadership) is imperative, and the abuse of authority in the American Church must come to an end.
But, before we get to the BAD and the UGLY, I want to shine an enormous light on the GOOD. As our first year was coming to an end, we were approached by the youth pastor about our commitment for the upcoming year. I was honest and told him that I felt my gift for discipleship wasn’t being used and that if I was to continue serving in the ministry, I needed to be with a group of kids who took their faith seriously and wanted to really dig in. I believe we best serve our youth by encouraging them to use their gifts to lead others. I made a simple proposal: Find a group of high schoolers who had an interest in being discipled, a willingness to invest in middle schoolers, and a desire to be stretched in their understanding of what it means to follow Jesus (aka… there’s more to being a Christian than living a moral life and going to church on Sunday.)
The youth pastor agreed to my proposal, offering me the freedom to mold these teens into leaders. Without going into too much detail, my method was similar to the one I used in discipling young women. I implemented a weekly and monthly plan. Every week, these high schoolers….I started out with five…. would be in charge of the games and worship for the middle school youth group. As the pastor began teaching the lesson, the high schoolers would come hang out with me for their lesson.
We started out talking about doubt, specifically where they were doubting God. We talked about sin and I had them find scriptures to combat those sins. I made scripture memory cards (from the verses they picked out) and we memorized them as a group. We talked about prayer and tithing. I taught about the Holy Spirit and gave them my frozen orange juice concentrate comparison. (We are the water. The frozen orange juice concentrate is the Holy Spirit. In order for what comes out of us to be of the Lord… the Spirit needs to be stirred in us. How is the Holy Spirit stirred: reading the Word, praying, community, etc. It’s not a perfect analogy, but few are.)
Then once a month, we met for breakfast, Bible study, and service in the city. (This is important to note: These kids were going to church in one of the wealthiest towns in the state of Maine, and I was taking them into inner city Portland.) We did prayer walks in the city. We gave away breakfast sandwiches to the homeless. We walked around with coffee and met people these kids will never forget. (Like that time we had a long conversation with a stripper. That night, when I walked into youth group, one dad said, in front of a whole group of kids, “So, I heard you introduced my kid to a stripper today.” I wish you could have seen all the jaws of those kids drop at once. Best. Reaction. Ever. Thankfully, that parent appreciated the experience for his son.)
Thankfully, all of the parents appreciated those experiences. There was only one person who didn’t: the youth pastor.