The little boy in the middle is my son Ezra. He'll be 4 the first of May. Every Wednesday after he comes from his "Phase 2" class at Grace Community, he comes in to the Link where we have axis and just sorta makes himself at "home." Here he is "shooting" at Aaron ... a student in our youth ministry who took this picture. They have this little game every Wednesday where they "shoot" at each other. It's fun to watch.
What I love about this picture is that Ezra is just being himself. He feels comfortable enough to come in and just "shoot up" everything in sight. He loves to run around, give people high fives, and "flirt" with the teenage girls ... "Dear, Lord, please help me when HE becomes a teenager." ... The kid is such a flirt!
But, anyway, I share this because I just love his level of comfortability in that room. He feels no need to "perform" or be someone he's not. I realize part of that is because he's 4, but I also believe it's because of an environment that's been cultivated in our youth ministry. We are by no means a perfect youth ministry. We have issues we're working on just like every ministry does. But, I do believe we try our best to create a relaxed atmosphere where teenagers can be themselves. Some of those teenagers are very close to God and some of them could care less about God at this point in their lives, but we try to show each teenager the same love and acceptance we all crave. We speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Sometimes its received and sometimes it's rejected, but regardless we try to let everyone know that we are genuinely happy that they are with us.
I believe an atmosphere like that represents God well. And, I believe that if we are able to represent God well, to give a clear picture of who He really is, then it creates a hunger in our souls for more of Him. It's a prayer of mine every single Wednesday night when our youth ministry meets. We obviously have no control over how a teenager responds to the message we speak each week, but I do believe we can turn them off to the message real fast if we're not creating a welcoming, accepting environment.