Monday, March 30, 2015

Visits with old Youth Group Students -- John and Jordan (the Anti-Youth Group)

twenty-year old JordanFor a short time, I was doing interim youth ministry in the church John Grandberg and my nephew, Jordan Johnson, attended. But that isn’t the primary reason they are included in this month of visiting old youth group students, because more importantly, we formed the “Anti-Youth Group."

Jordan and his son
I met with Jordan after church last Sunday and asked him a question I’ve asked for the last four weeks interviewing former youth group students from three different churches, “What was good about church growing up?”
 Jordan said, “Learning Bible stories in church and Sunday School. I didn’t understand them then, but they gave me background for when I did come to know God.”
Jordan's wife, Allyson, and their daughter   
What he didn’t say was what got my immediate attention. For the last four weeks when I’ve asked this question, I’ve gotten roughly the same answer: “Church was a second family. There were older people who were second parents, second grandparents, that cared for me.”  Not what Jordan said.

In fact, when I asked what the bad parts of church were growing up, he said, “Everything else.” He never felt accepted by people in the church, except by his own family and only two people he came to know through the church, Todd Towner and John. He felt the church was a country club atmosphere with expectations he never met. In recent years he attended a memorial service for someone from the church, and when he entered the building, the same sense of awkwardness and exclusion returned.
Jordan was, in fact, kicked out of the youth group. A precipitating event that led to his ouster was a skit in which a youth group kid was supposed to get a pie in the face. Instead, Jordan threw the pie in a leader’s face. The leader was not at all pleased. By the way, this offends my code for youth ministry, but more importantly, in this case, my understanding of comedy. Someone in authority getting a pie in the face is funny; someone in authority embarrassing someone under authority is not funny (except in a National Socialist State, of course, where bullying is the source of great hilarity).
john and phalloeun circa 2000   
John, also, was also asked to leave the youth group. A leader came to John’s home to let John’s parents know that since John wasn’t working with the program he wasn't welcome. Both John and Jordan feel there was a strong sense that the program and playing the games (literally games -- Steal the Bacon, we’re talking here) were more important than people.

John with two of his kidsJohn also had few good things to remember about church growing up. He appreciated the chance to hang out with Jordan (and Jordan’s brother, Jared).  There were a few adults he remembered caring for him (shout-out to you, Leembo!), but not many.

I was no longer working at the church when Jordan and John were kicked out (though I was still attending), and we decided to form the “Anti-Youth Group”. We agreed to meet regularly, usually to shoot pool and eat snacks, but also take a bit of time to look at something in the Bible. We often looked at gross passages -- most anything that featured violence and/or sex. Amazingly, they both look back on that as a time they were challenged to think about God and His Word in a positive way.

John's wife Phalloeun with two of their kidsOne of the most important things about attending their former church for both John and Jordan is that it is where they met the person organizing their current home church, Todd Towner. For both of them, Todd showed love in a sacrificial way that drew them to God.

John and family with DeanToddJordan said the relationships in his current church gave him the confidence to be the husband, father, student and worker that he is today. John can’t always attend Sunday morning worship due to his work schedule, but he said that the relationships in his church aren’t about just Sunday morning, but the whole week long.

Though church wasn’t a “good thing” for either of them growing up (and Jordan expressed a concern that many people share those negative church experiences), both now appreciate how God cares for them through their church. Jordan said he couldn’t live the Christian life as a “Lone Ranger.”

Thinking about John's and Jordan’s experiences made me think two things, one bad and one good. There are many churches that don’t show God’s love to a lot of people. On the other hand, many times, one person showing God’s love can be enough. Can that one person be you?
-- Dean