After six years, I was annoyed with the whole Sunday school affair. Crazy action songs. Kiddy puppet Bible stories. Even the sweets for reciting the week’s memory verse no longer appealed to the pre-teen in me.
The youth ministry, however, sounded promising. On occasion, they came to lead us in a time of songs. The songs they sung was loud and lively; they dressed well and sang passionately. In short, I thought they were very cool.
But when I finally got old enough to join them, it took me only three weeks to conclude: I hated the youth ministry.
In the first week, the girls sitting behind me “whispered” nasty comments to each other about my boyish dressing and choice of short hair. In the second week, a close friend of mine got herself a boyfriend and abandoned me. In the third week, I overheard some of the youth leaders discussing how to “deal” with the “hyperactive” me. According to them, I wasn’t the “right fit” for this youth ministry. I was too loud and disruptive for their taste.
And so I left.
A couple of months later, I had run out of excuses for not attending the Saturday youth service. Rather than risk incurring my mother’s wrath, I began to visit other church services that were being held at about the same time. At least I wouldn’t be lying when I told her I was going to church. And I reckoned that I would eventually find one that would suit me—where I would be loved and accepted for who I was.
This went on for about a year and a half. Visiting a new church, making new friends, discovering problems—the whole cycle would begin all over again. It was a cycle that not only wore down my self-confidence, but also affected my belief in God. What was new and exciting at first became exhausting—to the point that I started to consider giving up on my faith entirely.
It was at this juncture that a youth leader from my home church invited me to attend a spiritual leadership boot camp. She had heard through a mutual friend that I was struggling in my faith journey and that I was resistant to returning to the youth group, and so didn’t push me. Instead, she reassured me that this camp was external and interdenominational; only two or three others from our church were attending it. I rejected her offer at first, but then decided to register for it on my own after I discovered that some of my schoolmates would be attending.
Truth be told, I no longer remember what the sermons were about or what games we played, but one particular session left a deep impression on me.
On the second night, when we entered the worship hall, we were surprised to see that the musical instruments had all been removed, leaving the stage bare. After singing three worship songs with just a guitar, we were told to remain silent, to imagine we were alone in the room with God, and to read whichever Bible passage came to mind.
This left many of us bewildered. For a start, singing songs with a single guitar was quite unlike the usual music we were used to. Furthermore, as we were in a place away from the sounds of the city, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. The silence was uncomfortable, and every minute that passed felt more like an hour.
After about half an hour of trying not to fall asleep, the numbers “27” and “4” suddenly came to my mind. I had no idea which book I was supposed to flip to, so I just went to Psalms—right in the middle of the Bible.
This is what the verse said:
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
As I read these words, I immediately felt rebuked. Why did I go to church in the first place? Whom did I go to see? Whom did I worship? What did I truly seek?
Before I knew it, tears began to well up in my eyes. I got up quickly, barely making it to the door. Outside, I sat down and wept freely.
That night, through Psalm 27:4, the Lord revealed to me that my motives for attending the youth ministry were wrong. No matter how many different youth services I visited and no matter how many churches I tried, I would never find the “perfect” youth group.
The same night, I confessed my self-centeredness and my pride to my camp group leader. I also sought God’s forgiveness—for the bitterness I had against those who I felt had criticized or abandoned me. Immediately, I felt both relieved and at peace with God; it was a peace which I had not felt in a very long time.
That episode taught me that church is not instituted to serve my needs or to meet my desires. The early Christians met to pray, to worship, and to study the word of God. We too are called to do the same, so that we may know God better, worship Him, and make Him known.
The very next week, I went back to my home church and started to serve as a small group leader in the youth ministry. I’ve been serving there ever since, 15 years now . . . and counting.