The transformative power of friends

Both last week and this week we'll be talking about transformational moments in ministry: Moments that have transformed our faith or changed the way we do ministry. Over the next few days, you'll hear from several women in ministry who serve in various capacities - some paid, some volunteer; some in youth ministry, some not – from various denominations around the world.

Today's post is written by Becca Baker. Becca is a dear friend and a fantastic and deeply respected adult leader in my youth ministry who has faithfully served with us for 3 years. When she's not volunteering in our youth ministry, Becca works at DeVry as a Student Services Representative. She also enjoys geeking out at various Comic-cons.

I am your average 26 year old woman. I work a full-time job I am overqualified for. I live with a friend from college. I have a dog. And like most of my fellow millennials, I volunteer weekly. However, it is my volunteering that separates me from my fellow iphone carrying, environmentally aware, partying counterparts. I volunteer at my church, my Christian church that I attend regularly with my mother.

Most of my friends and peers do not attend church. Some will be frank and say they don’t want to waste their weekends. Others take the pretentious route and say they don’t agree with organized religion. While others will get in my face and tell me exactly why they will not attend church; women are second-class citizens, gay people are not accepted, there is no God, and my favorite, all religions are basically the same.

I can remember one particular night. I was out at a bar with two of my closest friends. We had somehow lucked into a booth next to the TV showing the Blackhawks game. We sat down, ordered our drinks and our food. We wanted people to know we were in for the full game. We chatted while the first period played out. I mentioned how one of my coworkers was shocked to learn I was an active Christian. At some point in my story, my friend (who had been my closest friend since the day we were born) looked at me and said, “I could never go to church, not with the way gay people are treated”. I sat back for a moment.

I had just spent a week in July down at the ELCA Youth gathering. A gathering where we all were told to Love Like Jesus, nightly, almost a little too much. We had a guest speaker who was not only gay, but talked about how bullying almost took his life because of who he was. I watched in awe as the kids in my group looked not only outraged by what he went through, but talked about how they never saw that at their school. Here we were with over 30,000 Christians facing the issue of gay rights head on, and siding with love. Now here I was in a bar listing to how ALL Christians hate gay people.

I told my friend of the Youth Gathering, of how we were teaching to accept everyone for who they are because that is what Jesus taught. I told her of the article I had read earlier in the week of the Methodist Church in Chicago doing outreach in Boys town, at the very least letting them know there are Christians who love them and who accept them as they are. My other friend, a very relaxed Catholic who was agnostic at this point, nodded her head in agreement. She had also seen the article and the picture collage on buzz feed about Christians at the Gay Pride parade.

My dear friend shrugged and said, “Well, I didn’t know that”. The conversation moved on. We switched to boys, hockey, and wondering when our food would arrive. However, I still felt a pit in my gut. I had known that there were people who grouped Christians together, for better or worse. The same way people who are Muslim were all lumped together. It must be easier for people than to actually attempt to learn the subtle differences between Catholic and Protestant, ELCA and Missouri Synod. But this was my friend, my friend who I had mutual friends with who were gay. Did they think I hated them because I was Christian?

That night as I lay in bed, attempting my nightly prayers, I found myself getting angry. All my friends, none of them went to church consistently. They all had their varied reasons. Whatever the short story to me was, they gave up. As an adult, being a believer is hard. It is harder to justify why you go to Church every weekend. As a kid you just shrug and say, “My mom makes me”. Now, it is me. I lay there trying to figure out how to comfort them all: All the twenty-something’s who simply gave up on their faith when it got hard.

My mind started reeling. If they didn’t like something, why didn’t they do something about it. What if Martin Luther had just shrugged and said, “I don’t agree with the church, so I am not going anymore”. They should have fought. Fought to get their voice heard, to make the change. They should have done something, and how could God just watch them leave one by one? I began to resent my friends over the next few days. They made their late Saturday night plans, while I planned to come back early so I could make it to church. They took the easy road, and I hated them for it.

I was driving home from my job, going over and over my argument with a fictional friend. Thinking things I would never really say to them. Getting worked up again, when something happened. The Mumford and Sons song “I Will Wait” came on the radio. Then it hit me. I had given up on my faith before. I had shrugged, threw my hands up and simply walked away. I had left my faith for six years.

After I was confirmed in 8th grade in my childhood Missouri Synod Church, I never went back. I did not agree with the anti-abortion videos they played. I did not like that I was bullied by my peers in front of adults and nothing was done. I really did not like that I asked about evolution and was told it was a lie. I was the only one who went to public school, and the only one with a working mother. Looking back, my church seemed stuck in 1950s.

I stopped going to church all through high school, a time when all but two of my high school friends were active in youth groups. They went on mission trips, and talked about their discussions at lunch. I would listen, but not really care. I was on speech team, which meant I spent twelve hours every Saturday at a tournament, and couldn’t be bothered to wake up early on Sunday. Going into college, I didn’t even think about finding a church or a ministry on campus. I wanted to find my classes and a place I fit in. I never even thought about my faith growth.
I mean, I still would tell people I was Lutheran, and I said my prayers every night but that was it. I didn’t care if my faith grew, or if I was doing God's work. I had too much of my own work to do.

It wasn’t until I transferred my junior year that I finally found a ministry. I had hit bottom at my first school and was ready for a new beginning. I found a club of Christian women, we had weekly Bible studies, and there my faith began to re-grow. I found joy in faith again. I realized I could have questions, and be a liberal person, and still devote. I could not agree with one person, and I would not be thrown out.

I sat back and laughed. I was ready to have a witch trial with my friends over who was a believer or not. I was ready to tell them all their short comings. How they were doing everything wrong. How they should practice their faith. Basically I was ready to tell them how much better I was. I was a better Christian because not only did I go to church; I worked with high school students. I was helping others, like Jesus. I parked my car at my apartment and laughed. I was such a jerk. I was so grateful I had never said anything to my friends, so glad that they could not hear my thoughts.

As I walked up to my apartment I was reminded of a story my Nana told me. My Nana is a very devoted woman, she forced my mother to go to Lutheran school K-12. She once told me,
There was once a man stuck in the bottom of a very deep hole. He cried and yelled, and pleaded for help. Finally a doctor came by.
“Please, help me out of this hole!” the man cried.
“Here is some medicine that is all I can give you, I have patients to see", the doctor said to him.

When a priest came by, the man yelled to him, “Please Father, help me, I am stuck at the bottom of this hole!”
“I cannot, I have parishioners to see, but I shall pray for you”, the priest said to him. The man sat down in despair. He began to weep. There was no help coming and he was doomed.
Then suddenly, his friend jumped to the bottom of the hole. “Don’t worry, I have been down here before, I will help you out”, the friend said and then helped the man up.

It was my favorite story my Nana would tell us. I remember the first time I heard it I was shocked. I had expected the Priest to save the man. I was surprised my Nana had not changed the story so that the priest had saved the man. I even said as much. She smiled at me, and said “That is not the point, sometimes you need someone who has been there to help”.

That's what I need to be. I need to be the friend who jumps to the bottom of the hole. When and if my friends ever find themselves in need of something more for their faith, I need to let them know I've been there before. I now understand how they were able to walk away from church; To feel the faith they have is enough. I've been there. And if a time comes when they realize it's not enough, I'll be ready to jump down that hole.

Other posts in this series:

The transformative power of conflict;

The transformative power of story;

The transformative power of women in vocational ministry;

The transformative power of carpet

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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