Man. Myth. Legend.

Bobby Golden: a widely loved and admired asset to Clear Creek Church of Christ.

IMG_6948This summer, he went along for the ride on our 4th teen mission trip to Haiti. During this week, the teenagers work together to host a summer camp for 200+ Haitian children. This is an opportunity for our students to step up and use their gifts to actively serve the Kingdom. Bobby G blew us away this week with his hard work ethic and desire to be involved with the group. From late nights playing games with the teens, to long hours in the hot sun rallying large groups of Haitian children… Bobby G was there for it all and did not hold back any part of himself for the sake of the mission. He was intentional about his interactions with the teenagers and positive about our many logistical setbacks. Our teens also loved the chance to spend time with him. Christ was evident in Bobby G’s interactions with the Haitian children, but also with the teens on the trip.

Growing up at this church as a little girl, I always looked up to Bobby G. Everyone does. But working closely in ministry with him this summer and in Haiti, I’ve been able to glimpse the wisdom and perspective that he has been awarded from his many years of faithful service to our God. His character mirrors Jesus in every way. He is committed to this youth group. He loves fully and embraced each new experience on our trip with excitement and flexibility. Bobby G’s quiet service to this youth group was seen on this trip to Haiti. It was a privilege to witness.

 

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A New Wave of Leadership

Several months ago, we had the privilege of writing about the newly formed youth ministry praise team, which has allowed many students the opportunity to experience a particular form of student leadership. That effort, however, was only the beginning step towards promoting and encouraging a new wave of student leadership within the ministry. As we’ve learned from experience, it’s important to be developing the next group of leaders BEFORE the current ones graduate. With that in mind, we have made it a priority to give some of our younger students opportunities to practice significant leadership roles right now, so that as they age and mature, they will grow into their potential.

IMG_4282If we fail to engage students in leadership opportunities when they enter the youth group as Middle Schoolers, we have no one to blame but ourselves if they get to be upperclassmen and feel completely unprepared when we ask them to “step up and set the example.” There’s no reason at all for gap years when it comes to serving in the church. This training and equipping process can begin much earlier and I deeply appreciate the way the Children’s Ministry works to give elementary students opportunities to practice leadership skills.

Increasingly, we have been using younger students to take lead, not only during worship, but in other aspects of our meeting time, as well. We’ve recently seen ninth graders Patrick Russell and Hannah Window – following the example set by senior Briggs Braswell – lead our praise team on Wednesdays, and several of the Middle School singers rotate through song-leading duties on Sunday mornings when our group is split. We are increasingly using students to lead games during both combined and separated gatherings. High School students have led Bible studies with their peers, and of course, February’s Martin Boyd Service provided an opportunity for many of our young men to gain experience leading an entire worship service.

IMG_4849Perhaps most significant to me, though, is what was recently asked of two of our 8th graders, Matt Stone and Andrew Reynolds. On two recent Sundays, rather than ask one of our more-than-capable adult volunteers to conduct our Middle School class, we decided to have students lead all aspects of the large-group gathering: game, worship, and teaching. It can be an intimidating thing to present a spiritual lesson in front of one’s peers, but both Matt and Andrew rose to the occasion and did wonderful jobs presenting their messages. They were thoughtful, well-prepared, and intent on delivering a quality speech. All the adults in the room were so proud, and it was encouraging to witness the cheers from their friends when they completed their lessons.

While it can be tempting to assume young people aren’t ready to take on some of the more demanding leadership roles within our church, the fact is, our kids are more capable than we often give them credit for, and more than that, the only way to improve is by doing. May we all come to an understanding that every investment we make in the spiritual leadership capabilities of our young people serves to bless the church today and far beyond. Today we invest in maturity for tomorrow.

 

 

Seniors Choosing to Lead

Clear Creek’s High School spring retreat has evolved over the last three years greatly. It has transitioned from being planned and organized by the youth minister and adult volunteers, to the entirety of its success or failure resting solely on the shoulders of our seniors. They got together to plan, laugh, and dream up the theme, guest speaker, location, decor, menu, silly-stupidity, games, activities and even fancily renamed the weekend to match the castle they rented. [The 2019 High School Only Riverless Castle Retreat. haha]

 

They were hands on throughout the weekend as well, leading our student kitchen crews. Each high schooler cooked, served, and cleaned up after one meal – a task that many hesitated at first on and after they’d done it, traditionally asked for a second turn to continue the fun. Parents are skeptical, no doubt. After each worship and lesson, this group of seniors jumped in and led discussion groups of their younger peers.

They boldly challenged their groups to dream up a list of ways that we as a student group could serve our own community this year. To not wait on Aubrey or Mitchell or small group leaders to organize it for them. But to dream and DO.

CCYM now has a long list of local mission points for the immediate future; ways that they can get out of their comfort zones and serve together. The other gift that this group of seniors gave to CCYM was their presence. They are in the throes of finalizing college decisions, course work, jobs, and commitments. Yet they showed up and were fully present. This will hopefully continue to lead CCYM into deeper waters with a growing tradition of seniors staying engaged throughout their hardest semester. God was glorified through their willingness to lead, serve, love and follow.

“God was glorified through their willingness to
LEAD, SERVE, LOVE and FOLLOW”

 

Dinner Party for 10

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This past fall, the high school ministry launched a new event designed to get teens out of their normal social bubbles. Five guys and five girls are invited each month. We avoid inviting best friends, siblings, or couples and we make sure that at least three separate schools are represented.

This time has proven invaluable toward breaking down social walls, connecting, and forging new connections. We have also seen many high schoolers have their first conversations with other high schoolers, some of which have been in proximity to each other for years. Being nudged out of their comfort zones has been a really healthy step. During our first D

P410, one of our high schoolers looked at Nick, a guy she’s been at church with for years, and said, “I’ve known who you were for most of my life and I’ve never heard your voice until tonight.” THAT moment, and many more like it,  are why we are attempting this new venture. Expanding our communities and making new connections ensures that more teenagers feel welcomed into our group. We want to not only be a place that SEEMS fun and welcoming, but one where people realize we have substance and connection to something bigger.

Time Over Time

Every so often, there’s a moment in which I (Mitchell) see evidence of what we already know and claim as truth – that adult volunteers investing in students’ lives over time makes a lasting impact. Most recently, I was reminded of this fact through an interaction with long-time youth volunteer Victor Steen. Victor and I ran into each other while entering a funeral home to attend a visitation following the death of 9th grader Caleb Kelley’s grandfather. As we waited in line to greet the family, we chatted about his years of experience with the Kelley family, particularly through his involvement with youth-league basketball. Caleb, and several others from our youth group, have been coached by Victor for several seasons, and he has developed a special bond with the boys over the course of that time.

thumbnailBeing involved in the lives of students enables interactions with their families, so Victor has also formed relationships with many parents and even indirectly influenced grandparents. This was evident during the visitation by his interaction with Caleb’s grandmother, who had attended countless sporting events and knew the role Victor has played in Caleb’s life. On this day, Victor reminded me that when adults invest “time-over-time” with children and students, the impact they have will be significant.

Over the years Victor has been heavily involved in many sports, both as a coach and volunteer. His clear and profound love for young people manifests in many ways as he seeks out opportunities to provide healthy and positive environments for kids to learn the value of teamwork, self-control, perseverance, and grit.

But Victor doesn’t limit himself to the wide world of sports. He is dedicated to an even higher calling – the body of Christ. Victor has been a small group leader in the youth ministry for several years. When he began volunteering, he requested to work with our Middle School boys, many of whom he coached. For much of his time working with our MS, I witnessed the intentional way he ministered to the guys of his group. He was always concerned that they “get something out” of being part of a spiritual community. Back in August, as his group of boys was aging up into 9th grade, he requested to shift into the role of a High School volunteer and continue his work. Time-over-time.

One final note of appreciation has to be mentioned regarding his status as our most prolific inviter of guests. Using his existing network and influence through sports and his sons’ school, Victor is always looking for ways to reach out to young people who are not connected to a church home. He clearly considers his involvement in youth sports to be his mission field.

Victor will hate the fact that this article is written entirely about him, but we hold him up as an example of someone who is not looking for the spotlight, but simply wants to invest time-over-time with people to gain influence and further the work of making disciples.

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.

 

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.

Bridge

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!