Teens Who Praise

As the summer ended, we in the youth ministry knew a bittersweet moment awaited us. Sadly, we’d be losing two graduating students, Andrew Butcher and Caroline Ring, who had served as our regular worship leaders for well over a year. Their leadership and example had been an encouragement to our younger youth, and we wanted to continue the tradition of involving students in leading worship. The challenge we faced was to raise up new leaders who could take Andrew and Caroline’s places when the new school year began.IMG_3990

Starting during the spring, we began including younger students in the worship leading mix by having them join our veterans up at the front during singing. By the time summer was drawing to a close, the decision was made to go all out and begin developing a youth praise team. Despite the fact that neither Aubrey nor Mitchell have any particular talent for teaching people how to sing better (and are only passable song leaders at best!) – we had one significant factor in our favor: we’ve got several kids that really love to sing and are willing to serve. With our Wednesday night gathering being the best context to give our kids the opportunity to showcase their leadership, we started pulling several kids (anyone who was interested, really) up to the front to lead songs along with one of the youth ministers. Not terribly worried about mastering four-part harmony or nailing every rhythm and lyric, the early goal was to establish a comfort with being up front. We knew we had kids who loved to engage in worship, but we wanted to see if we could get them to love setting an example for being engaged in worship.

Currently, our praise team is a collection of about ten kids and many of these can be found leading any given Wednesday. We’re hardly producing gold records, but the students really do seem to enjoy the experience. Every Wednesday, our group messaging app fills with conversation regarding the plan for worship that night. Our team is taking increasing ownership of the process, which is encouraging to see. We’ve even purchased additional microphones so more of them can participate at the same time!

A few weeks ago, we had a special singing night where we sang through some newer songs and even tried to learn a few we’ve never sung before. Ten students, a mix of Middle and High Schoolers, took position at the front of our room to help their peers better engage in the worship experience. Though we stumbled our way through a few of the songs (minister’s fault!), the overall experience was very uplifting to our youth group. A couple of High School girls later remarked that it was one of their favorite Wednesdays of the semester so far. Surely, much credit goes to the example set by a group of teens who simply wanted to share their joy for praising God through song.

It’s an incredible thing to watch what happens when we can pair students’ passions and talents with opportunities for them to use these things to serve the body of Christ. Though our youth praise team has a lot of room to grow, our early adopters are setting a precedent for unapologetic leadership that, if nurtured, will serve the youth ministry for years to come. Here’s a big “thank you” to Briggs, Caroline, Evan, Hannah, Katie, Kay, Lily D, Lily H, Maya, Patrick, Sophie, and others who are showing us what it means to step-up and lead. May their example be an encouragement to our youth to find ways to use what God has given them to praise the Lord.

 

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Middle School Servants

One big way I saw God this summer is in the Middle School girls’ willingness to serve. They took time out of their summers to be a blessing to other people. They could have been doing anything else, but they chose to serve. Riley Oleksik really showed the teens and the adults who were helping what it means to have a servant heart. 1During our mission trip, Riley had a broken hand, and I never heard her complain once. She worked hard while always having a smile on her face. She didn’t let her injury get in the way of shaping the community of Madison, Tennessee. She challenged us to never stop serving even when there are obstacles in the way. She forever changed my heart to be even more willing to serve. Her example made our whole team want to give their all for the church and community we served that week.

Another big way I have seen God working is how open and vulnerable the Middle Schoolers are willing to be. At Impact, I was amazed by how the girls opened up with one another in small group devotionals at night. It can be hard to share about the messy and hard parts in life, but they were willing to confess many of their struggles and fears. The environment that God has created in the Clear Creek Youth Ministry is open and accepting of people, flaws and all. Our girls’ willingness to be vulnerable has taught me it is okay to be open about the messy parts of my life.

 

Young Influencers

I have been deeply affected by all of the high schoolers in my time here as an intern. They are all powerful instruments for the kingdom and are bearing witness to Jesus, both to each other and to those outside of Clear Creek.thumbnail 6

Jeanna Parker and Julie Clevenger are influencers. I had the privilege of giving a devotional with them in Haiti. We chose the story of Thomas doubting the resurrection from John 20. To hear these two young women of God speak openly about their doubts as well as the character of Jesus as revealed in his response was beautiful to behold. They then each led prayers asking the Lord to soften our hearts and become vulnerable.

Eden Henderson is an influencer. In many conversations, she has been vulnerable with me and with others in a powerful way. She has led me and those around her in an expression of vulnerability that provides safety, not judgement. She has shown me that the two most powerful words that can be said when someone shares a deep part of themselves with you are “me too”.

Charlotte Vance is an influencer. She has been a voice to our ministry team and her peers about the importance of asking difficult questions about God, faith, how to connect with those who do not know Jesus, and what it means to be a true disciple. Her openness and wisdom are contagious.

 

Brag on the Work of the Spirit

All the youth boys blew me away this summer. From participation in small group discussions on Sunday to busting up pallets and digging in the dirt on the Mission Trip, they impressed me with their desire to be involved. However, I would like to brag on the work of the Spirit in some specific boys.

I witnessed Christ moving in the heart of Evan Pirtle many times. At Impact, he reflected Jesus constantly through his attitude, his depth, and his worship. At all of our events, Evan participated and took discussions seriously.  On the Mission Trip to Nashville, he was a huge boost to the group.  I believe Evan is already a leader in the youth group so there is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit is preparing him to lead his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

I also saw God working in Matthew Stone. Matt loves to make others laugh (and he is good at it). He is a fun presence and he makes any event he is at much more exciting. This summer, I got to see a vulnerable, thoughtful, convicted Matt that some people might not usually see. I witnessed the Spirit moving Matt’s heart towards new, mature leadership of the group.3

Patrick Russell impressed me over and over this summer. He is a man of integrity, discipline, and he cares about others. He is also very patient, forgiving, and full of grace. Patrick was a constant leader this summer, through both words and actions. He contributed to every discussion, worked very hard whenever it was needed (he and Sam assisted Mitchell and myself with intense, nasty, dirty yard work just because they wanted to help) and was a positive voice in the group.  Patrick is already full of the Spirit and is following God’s plan for his life.

 

Real Fellowship

In Ecclesiastes 4, the Bible says that “a cord of three strands is not easily broken”. Skin-deep relationships are superficial and yield no spiritual fruit. The big topic of conversation this summer was definitely how to bridge the gap between a passive conversation and real fellowship with one another as a community of brothers and sisters in Christ.IMPACT

At the beginning of the summer, I was nervous about connecting and developing relationships with the youth group, afraid that I wouldn’t be received well. My fears were immediately eliminated when Harrison Van Eaton greeted me with laughter and a hug. Throughout the summer I saw Harrison go out of his way to include others in activities while making them feel welcomed and a part of the group. During IMPACT, Harrison would seek out individuals both in and outside our youth group and make them feel included. By welcoming new faces, Harrison is able to show how Jesus accepts all who come to him and opens the door to a relationship with Christ.

The counselors of IMPACT have arguably the most important job – enforcing bedtime. As I was making my rounds, I stumbled across Trevor McDaniel, a rising junior at Boyd Buchanan, engaging in a discussion with several of the other teens. I joined in and within several minutes the other rooms of guys had begun sharing openly about their lives and their walk of faith. Trevor opened the conversation by making himself vulnerable and the guys responded with a love and compassion that I had never seen before. He made the necessary steps to change a surface level relationship into one that represents community and fellowship. Because of his actions, many others shared and became more open with one another.

I am sure that I have never seen someone who can sustain a smile longer than Briggs Braswell. Everywhere I see him, he is sporting a great attitude and positive atmosphere to those around him. This summer I saw Briggs spread the love of Christ with good intent. Briggs is an awesome example of how being a Godly man can rub off on those around you. He helps create a safe space for teens to share freely and feel accepted. His intentional kindness shows how you can convey Christianity through your actions.

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This summer has been extremely encouraging to me because of the way the guys grew closer to God and one another. The teens in the youth group were able to make themselves vulnerable in front of each other and were received with open arms by their brothers and sisters in Christ. I saw them create a community of believers where they lean upon one another when they are down, supporting each other in their faith and actions. Being intentional in their relationships has taught them that they are not alone in their journey and that together they can be stronger in their faith. I am so blessed to have been a part of the ministry and look forward to seeing everyone again throughout the year!

It Takes a Village

You’ve heard that saying, right? Normally what is meant by the person uttering this familiar phrase is that raising kids into mature adults isn’t just the responsibility of set of parents, it’s the responsibility of a community. Anyone with kids is well aware of the truth of this idiom, and even those who are not currently on the journey of parenthood can surely attest to the fact that the collective wisdom and experience of a group of adults investing in the lives of young people is indeed an investment for the future.

As true as this sentiment might be in the society in which we live, the power of community to shape and influence upcoming generations is equally critical in the church. It is for this reason that our congregation has placed such a high value on Children’s and Youth Ministry, and why we have taken great strides over the last few years to incorporate small group environments into the fabric of our work with students.

The level of involvement from a volunteer small group leader can vary depending on the age of the students, and within our Middle and High School ministries, the commitment is long-term, discipleship focused, and rewarding. Since the inception of our regular small groups in the Youth Ministry several years ago, we have consistently been blessed with adult volunteers who commit to working with a group of teens every Sunday for an entire school year! Not only that, but these leaders typically make up the bulk of our chaperone force for retreats and major trips. It has often been remarked that our Small Group Leaders (SGLs) are the lifeblood of the Youth Ministry and this is no exaggeration! The key to helping our SGLs “win” with our kids is helping them to understand that they are not simply discussion leaders or crowd control referees. They are disciple-makers, influencers, mentors, coaches, and wise counselors. When they learn to see their role as that of “minister” and not simply volunteer, their potential to impact the lives of our kids increases dramatically.

IMG_0474Over the course of a school year, we’ve seen many examples of SGLs taking ownership of their role and seeing it bear fruit. We’ve seen leaders baptizing students they have worked with. On two occasions in the last couple of weeks, we have had students come to their SGLs for advice and guidance outside of the normally scheduled group time. It’s very common to see a SGL show up at a student’s extra-curricular activities as a showing of support and love. Mitchell and Aubrey regularly meet with leaders to discuss ways to better minister to the particular needs of a group or individual. Our SGLs encourage leadership, promote community, challenge students to think introspectively, and push them to make application in their day-to-day lives. Perhaps one of the greatest evidences of effective ministry occurs when students specifically request to have a SGL move up with them at the start of the next school year, and this is more common than one might think! The longer we’ve seen SGLs remain as servants in the Youth Ministry, the more we’ve seen their impact grow.

As students push for independence, learn personal responsibility, and develop the ability to make their own decisions and think for themselves, it’s an incredible blessing to know our church seeks to augment the life-long influence of parents and family members by surrounding our youth with adults who love and care for their children during the critical and highly-transformative years of Middle and High School. We LOVE our SGLs!!!

 

Taking Off the Masks

31732003_10155066085231157_3689604239882977280_oA conversation took place. Or it may be more accurate to call it the beginning of a conversation.

Saturday, April 28. Lunchtime. Fifteen high school students are crammed around a picnic table built for eight. Talking and laughing, they pass food back and forth. But the conversation has a serious tone. They are discussing a game plan for taking their masks off and showing the “real them” to those close to them. We all wear masks regardless of our age, career, or status. We use them to blend in. To hide who we are. To hide who we fear others assume us to be. We wear them to project an image to the world. These masks provide a false sense of security.

The discussion stemmed from a lesson that Matt Moore shared with the CCYM high school kids at our second annual “River Retreat.” He challenged them to share about their masks and what in their life needed to be deconstructed before they could construct something healthier in its place. You do not build healthy new construction atop a busted pre-existing structure. First, you tear out the rot and busted pieces. Then, you can be built up stronger. What was planned out to be a 15 minute discussion-based exercise, turned into just under an hour of sincere brainstorming on a level that many adults never choose to face.

“What would happen if I took off the mask?” “I’ve worn the mask for so long that it doesn’t even feel heavy anymore, and I would feel naked without it.” “What happens if I take off the mask, and I’m the first one to do it? And nobody else takes theirs off and I just feel judged.”

From 2 Corinthians 4:1-2 [the Message]: “We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.”

Diving into the Word, the seniors led us into deep waters all weekend. Our senior class decided to set a new tradition, so they took the reins of our retreat. They planned the theme, worship, speakers, menu, games, and the entire weekend from the ground up. Seven of them even shared in front of the group at different points. They challenged us to guard our hearts from the junk and debris that this world has to offer. Only through allowing God to protect our hearts can we stay clean and unstained.
As they examined the masks they wear and God’s plan for them to remove them, the term “hypocrite” took on new meaning. The word “hypocrite” stems from the ancient Greek, and it literally means “actor.” To be a hypocrite in this context is to put on a mask, whether figurative or literal, and to perform as if you are not yourself but another. We are all too good at this. Very few people see the real us. It’s very likely that in every room we walk in, each person is hiding behind a combination of masks.

The conversation that started during Saturday’s picnic is just the beginning.

Special thanks to Caroline Ring, Asa Owens, Andrew Butcher, Eden Henderson, Sara Grace “Sarge” Ray, Mackenna Hood, Tanner Jenkins, Chase Floied, and Cole Cagle. The legacy you just handed to CCYM [and specifically next year’s seniors] is such a blessing!

 

CRAVE-ing More of the Word

Once a month, the high school students come over to Aubrey and Robin’s house to eat, laugh, play games, and dive deep into the Word of God. This monthly time together is called CRAVE, and though it is near-impossible to find a school night that works for
high school students to get together, we average a dozen or so.

At one of our most recent meetings, Aubrey asked the group how they wanted to march forward study-wise. He told them, “This is your time and your group. I don’t want to dictate what we study or spoon feed you. You are busy, but if we are going to set time
aside to do this, you need to be fed.” One of our students spoke up and said that she would love for them to have a chance to share their own stories/testimonies – of their life, what they’ve been through, and what God is doing. Another guy spoke up and said
that maybe they [the high school students] could take over leading the Bible/Devotional side of the event.

A resounding YES!! was given to both of those suggestions. After the meeting, two students told him over Robin’s [world’s best] homemade cookies and coffee, that they would take the reins next meeting. Other than a location and food-prep, all aspects of the
next CRAVE were handled by teenagers. After advertising on GroupMe and text message, 24 students showed up and crammed in the living room.

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Harrison Van Eaton [one of our sophomore guys] led us into the Word and guided our discussion of Hosea/Faithfulness. He passed the torch to Jayla Meadows, [one of our junior girls] who shared her story. Her testimony is a powerful story of God’s faithfulness in the midst of a broken and uncertain world. Both did a fantastic job of leading their
peers and setting the future tone for CRAVE’s direction.

Neither of them would want this article written about them. And it’s not about Harrison or Jayla specifically. It’s about each of us choosing to share with others where we are on HIS path. As we dive deeper, we invite others to join our journey. The students also remind Aubrey and Mitchell ofen that teenagers will often rise to whatever level
they are challenged. If the bar is set low, they can certainly settle. If they are challenged and equipped, BIG THINGS can happen.

We try to remind the students at CCYM of Paul’s words in I Timothy 4:11-14. “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in
purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift…”

Nobody is more naturally equipped to minister to young people than our students. They are in the trenches everyday. In the cafeterias. Locker rooms. Hallways. The influence that Aubrey, Mitchell, their wives, small group leaders, or other countless volunteers have on the friends of the students of Clear Creek is not even comparable to the IMPACT of those students choosing to be salt and light daily.

Everybody needs a Paul. Look to those that lead you to continue to point you towards Christ. Everybody needs a Timothy. Look for those around you that are searching, and help show them Jesus through your actions and attitude.

Icing on the Cake

Sometimes, youth ministers celebrate youth retreats or even just returning home with the same number of youth kids they left with. As much as that may seem like the pinnacle of a youth ministry “win” [insert sarcastic tone here], there are things more
worthy of celebration. Jesus recently gave us not one, but SEVEN reasons to shout “hallelujah”! There is no greater “win” in Christianity than when a person chooses to receive the gift of God’s grace and become a disciple of Jesus. Witnessing seven young people do that is a highlight worth celebrating.

We base our youth ministry on relationships that are designed to move each teenager
further along the path of becoming a disciple. Through a slow process of hearing the message, internalizing it, and building authentic relationships with both adults and peers we try our best to create an environment where spiritual growth can happen. We plan for growth, but we know that the decision to follow Jesus is always according to God’s timing. Some students come to retreats with their hearts prepared. They plan to take this step while in the presence of their friends and mentors. Lilli and Kylie came to Winterfest prepared. Having wrestled with the baptism decision for weeks before we left for Gatlinburg, both girls declared their intent to use this occasion to mark the start of their discipleship journey before they even boarded the vans! And just like that, we knew we’d be celebrating the addition of two new sisters before the weekend was over.

The other five baptism decisions were less planned, but equally exciting for our group, as the announcements were made in succession. In addition to Lilli and Kylie, three others were also baptized in a hotel pool while 80+ people watched and cheered them on. Jeremiah, along with sisters Lily and Ella, had been absorbing the messages all weekend and each of them independently made their intentions known Saturday night. As those who have had the privilege of talking with a young person about the decision to be baptized know, there are few things as satisfying as hearing a teenager describe how they have come to understand why only Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life.

The Lord had also been working on the hearts of two other young men: Bailey and Brayden. By Sunday morning, both had decided that they too were ready to make the commitment, but would wait until we had returned to the church building so their families could be present. These baptisms were especially poignant as Bailey’s grandfather had the honor of baptizing him, while Brayden’s father took on the responsibility for his son.

These spiritual victories are the icing on the cake for an already joy-filled year in our youth ministry. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 3 that God makes the seeds of faith grow, but he also tells us that God uses people to plant and water the seeds. The wonderful thing about a baptism is how it is a win that can be claimed by the broad community of faith. So many people – grandparents, parents, ministers, small group leaders, and others – play important roles in moving the new believer towards discipleship. When God allows us to see the fruit of our efforts, it is something we can all celebrate.

An Exceptional Servant

Perhaps you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule. In the context of a church, it states that 80% of the work being done is accomplished by only 20% of the people. Usually, the 80/20 rule gets pulled out whenever complaints are being lodged about how some people are being overworked while others aren’t doing anything. Fortunately, Clear Creek volunteerism and involvement has been steadily growing beyond this ratio over the last several years, and we now employ more volunteers (as a percentage) throughout our various ministries than ever before, which is fantastic!

IMG_0803While more and more people are answering the call to serve, there are still a few who stand out as exceptional examples of servant leadership and have put in more than their fair share of time to offering help to the ministries of this congregation. One such leader, is long-time youth ministry volunteer Andy Gaither. After his third son’s graduation from High School, Andy finally decided to transition to new servant roles in other ministry areas, but his example of long-term commitment, selfless sacrifice of time and energy, and dedication to building younger generations of Christians is an example for all.

For over fifteen years, Andy served the youth ministry of the Hixson, now Clear Creek, congregation. For much of that time he held the title of deacon and later, Special Servant, but in no way was this an honorary title only. Andy exemplified what it is to be a ministry helper. Serving alongside several different youth ministers, and even filling in temporarily at times, he was known for ALWAYS being willing to help with ANYTHING. Trustworthy, efficient, and content to work the “hidden” behind-the-scenes roles, Andy would never ask for recognition, and will probably hate that this article is written to acknowledge his years of service!
Nevertheless, no apology will be offered, because if ever this church has seen someone who consistently displays a servant’s heart, it has seen it in Andy. For many years, he blessed the youth ministry with his consistent influence, and as he has taken on additional volunteer roles, leading to his transition out of youth ministry last spring, he continues to prove himself a high-capacity servant leader who never seems to tire of using the abilities God has given him to serve the needs of this church. May those who read this take encouragement that Clear Creek, and on a larger scale God’s kingdom, is served by men and women who understand that making disciples takes a certain degree of personal sacrifice, but also understand that the rewards, for both themselves and the people they serve, are eternal.