At first glance you’d think my fourteen-year-old daughter is a pretty, self-confident jockette and honors student growing up sheltered and cherished in ways only the truly privileged take for granted. But get to know her and you’ll realize that she’s a deep thinker who knows how to blend. At her core she’s a can-do, no-nonsense, uber-competitive, authority-questioning young woman with the analytical brain of an engineer.
It’s a potent combination that usually leaves people underestimating her until she eviscerates them with her tenacity and logic.
Last night she came home spitting nails from her weekly teenage girls’ church youth group activity. “You know what we did? We made little toy lizards to go on backpacks.”
“Okaaayyy,” I said. “And you didn’t want one for your backpack?”
“The lizards weren’t for us; they were for kids in Africa. It was a service project. I asked how tiny beaded lizards were a service project—wouldn’t starving kids in Africa rather have a sandwich? And they said these were to go on the outside of the backpacks that other people were filling with things kids need. This wasn’t a service project—this was decorating someone else’s service project.” She was deeply and thoroughly disgusted.
I totally got where she was coming from. I also understood why the adult youth group leaders thought this was a brilliant idea: weekly activity, check; service project, check; fun thing to do, check. Now who has an idea for next week?
There is one inescapable fact of a lay ministry—it requires a lot of volunteer work from its members. And sometimes people don’t grasp all of the purposes and reasons behind what’s being asked of them.
Too often in teen girls’ programs the focus becomes what’s cute, easy, and fun instead of worthwhile. Somehow the idea that we’re supposed to be helping girls grow into capable young women of faith gets confused with entertaining them. We avoid asking more of them out of fear that they’ll stop coming and lose sight of why we want them there in the first place.
Combine a skewed focus with a checklist mentality, and you’ll understand why so many church youth camps are held in somebody’s vacation cabin, meals are pre-prepared off-site by other adults and ferried in three times daily, and a twenty-minute hike is deemed as good as the five-mile requirement. We all know it’s a serious pain to set up tents in the wilderness. It’s also far easier if adults plan, shop for, and cook all the meals—double-bonus points if leaders can avoid doing that over a smoky campfire or wonky propane burner. Throw in some spiritual thoughts, a couple of crafts, and check, check, check—girls’ summer church camp is done.
But that’s not the point.
Young women need to do hard things in order to learn that they can. They need experiences that teach them that their service has real value. And that takes time, effort, and a non-checklist mentality from the adults. To do less is to underestimate them—and ourselves.
God never said it would be easy, only worth it.
I know my daughter dutifully made as many of the lizards as she could to the best of her ability. I suspect the whole time she was calculating the man-hours and hard costs that went into them, figuring if they’d sold the lizards for $5 apiece as a fundraiser and then taken the money they raised and…
But beyond asking why they were making the lizards, I doubt she said a word. Like I said, she knows how to blend.
On her way up the stairs to her bedroom she paused. “You know, Mom, when I’m grown up I hope I get to work in a girls’ youth ministry. That way I can make sure we do something real.”