The summer of my freshman year of High School I went on a backpacking trip where I encountered Jesus in a way that I had not previously experienced. It was a life-altering experience where I, confronted with the reality of who God is and who I am, made a decision to dedicate myself to following Jesus. I found a small group of people where I felt like I belonged. It was a really powerful experience to feel loved by a group of people that barely knew me. However, when I got back to school, I was facing a foundational question: In light of the decision I had made, where does that leave me with this group of friends who did not make a similar decision? I was asking the question, “Where do I belong?”
We see a picture of belonging in Acts 2 that goes to answer that question. We see a group of people who are dedicating themselves and their lives to the mission and each other. We see a group of people that know and love each other. As a result, the Lord is adding to their number daily. They are joining the Lord in His work and people are experiencing God’s goodness through people. What a beautiful picture! However, I don’t know about you, but this hasn’t always been my experience with church. You might be surprised to hear this about a high school group, but one of the biggest complaints people have is that the church feels “cliquey.” Why is that? I think it’s because it’s easier to love what we know. Exclusive and familiar is easy. Open and inclusive can be difficult.
So, how can we take steps to be an open and inclusive community? I think it starts with accepting people where they are at. I would imagine in the Acts 2 church there are people that are experiencing the love of the community and feel like they belong to the community LONG before they share the beliefs of the community. The church wasn’t threatened by doubts or people who didn’t have it all figured out. People belonged before they believed. This is a challenge to us…Can we be a safe space to figure it out? Can we love people where they are at with all of the messiness that comes along with that?
As a 15-year old with hair past his shoulders, nailing my Robert Plant impression and trying to figure out where I belonged, the answer didn’t come from a community that had all the right answers. It came from a community that loved me, no matter where I was at, and created a safe space for me to figure it out with all the mess that came with me. I belonged and I was loved. May we strive to be that place for each person in our community.
Pastor Seth Redden
High School Ministries