Thursday, September 3, 2009

Marathons & Sardines

Scripture tells us "Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." It is so true that the things we learn early on in any endeavour do tend to stay with us. I found this to be true in youth ministry as well. Today I want to talk about a couple of things I learned early on that stayed with me until my days of student ministry were over.

New Garden Friends Meeting, like almost every other youth group we knew about in the 70's, had "lock-ins." You know the event- kids come to the church, stay up late, sneak around and find places to be alone, get cranky and finally fall asleep. I have very few memories of this as a youth, but as a youth leader they were things to be feared! I didn't mind the lack of sleep- I hated playing guard dog trying to keep kids in areas of the church they were actually allowed to be in! So as I gained some experience, I began to change the event into a Marathon. The difference was subtle but very important. There would be no sleep. We would plan events for the entire night, including energetic games at the earliest hours of the morning. Where "lock-ins" had been torture for me, I LOVED Marathons! I was challenged me to be at my most creative, and the excitement level for the students went through the roof. As I progressed through the years, the Marathon morphed into Rec Around the Clock (a name I stole from the great Tom Klaus) and the stakes went way up! Now not only did we stay up all night, we were OUT of the church for the vast majority of the night! We went bowling at 2 am; ice skating at 5 am; played laser tag at 4 am; saw movies, played putt-putt, went to laser light shows and always finished with a breakfast. Rec Around the Clock became the single biggest event of the summer by the time I hit Kissimmee, including a guest appearance by Lost And Found. I never tired of these events, and the memories are many.

The different ministries I served over the years had many differences, but they all had one thing in common. They all played Sardines. For some, it was a game we played on occasion. For others. it was an obsession! For the uninitiated, Sardines is a hide-and-seek game. Two people go hide, and they everyone looks for them in pairs. When you find them, you hide with them, thus packing yourselves in like...wait for it...SARDINES! We learned this game from DB3 (David Brown the third) when I was 14 or so, and it was made all the more interesting by his stories of how it had been originally called "The Make-Out Game." As with all DB3 stories, you never knew if that was true, but it sure sounded good! After all, you played with a partner, in the dark, and tried to find hiding places where you would be alone for a long time (DB3 once told us about he and a girl hiding in a front loading washing machine at his boarding school- not sure I believed that one either!). Regardless of the make-out factor, it was a great game for scarring people in dark, spooky churches, and was getting more comfortable around the people you were with. You stick 30 youth under a desk, and you have togetherness!

Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, once said "It is a sin to bore a student with the Gospel." One of the ways I tried to open the hearts and minds of our youth over the years was to find ways to make church fun. Did I sometimes go too far and plan events that were a bit too wild? Oh yes- on a regular basis! But I do believe by making church a place kids WANTED to be, we were able to reach students with the Gospel who otherwise would have never heard it. Parents used to punish their children by grounding them from youth group. While I always found that a bit odd, if we could make it so special that it was punishment not to be there, we were doing something right. And if that "something right" helped bring one student to a relationship with Jesus the Christ, then I would do it all over again...

If anyone ever tries hiding in a washing machine, please let me know.

Because of Jesus,

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