September means getting back into the regular routine of things after a relaxed summer schedule.
For me that means a youth group full of friendly teenagers. They say being around youth keeps one young-I believe it, although sometimes my bad back doesn't!
I couldn't do it without a team of the best adult volunteers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. People that give up a free evening after a hard day's work to spend time in the gym or at the craft table with youth. People that cart kids back and forth without reimbursement to get them there, unless you count the odd pizza delivery as payment. Why do we do it when we're already busy enough?
I always refer back to the old Bible story of Eli and Samuel. My late grandma Nelda often told it to me as she tucked me into bed. Maybe you can recall it from your Sunday School days: Samuel's mother dedicates her infant child to God's service. He's raised by the old priest, Eli. One night in the tabernacle, the young boy hears someone calling him. Three times he thinks it's Eli. The old priest finally instructs the boy to say "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV). Samuel becomes a judge, prophet, and kingmaker.
Kids come to youth group for a variety of reasons: They want to grow in their faith It's something to do on a Thursday night There are cute girls (or boys) there But we adults know that in amongst the crazy games, loud music, and fun, we play the same role as old Eli. We're helping parents fulfill the promises they've made to God for their children at baptism (or dedication, depending on your theological convictions). It's not easy being a kid or a parent these days. Families need every caring adult they can get in their corner.
Sometimes the exotic setting of ancient Israel and the tabernacle obscures that this story took place while Eli and Samuel were going about their routine. In the same way, we adults emphasize a faith to youth that isn't just about Sunday morning and dress clothes. For instance, "love others" means something at home, school, and in the neighborhood, too. We must intentionally challenge those attitudes and actions in ourselves that don't demonstrate love.
One of the most satisfying things about youth work comes when young people start to make positive and different choices in life. They reach a point in their lives when they realize that it's not because their youth leaders or parents are driving those choices, but because Someone Else is beckoning them by name.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.