“I don’t want to go back.”

Kevin looked at me with fear in his eyes, but mostly with loneliness and concern. Concern that I was going to judge him and make fun of him for still being afraid of the dark.

As a 12-year-old on a weekend, host-home-based retreat with his other middle school youth group friends, it was understandable why Kevin didn’t want to go back to the house with the guys.

They wanted to continue telling ghost stories like the night before, but Kevin hated scary stories. Not to mention the fact that he still slept with a nightlight at home and the boys made fun of him for bringing it to the retreat.

For Kevin, this retreat was not fun.

I was having one of those moments where I wanted nothing more than to roll my eyes, tell him to get over it, to grow up, and go back to the worship service. The one I worked for 6 months to plan, orchestrate, and put on for 300 students. The one that I needed after a full day of running around. The one that we were missing.

Instead, this was one of those rare moments where it seems like God drops a note in your hand telling you EXACTLY what you need to do. So I looked at Kevin and said, “Would it be alright with you if we prayed?” Kevin had never prayed with a leader, especially not with THE youth pastor. He had no idea what to do, so he just said, “Sure.”

So we prayed.

We prayed for Kevin to have fun at this retreat.
We prayed for the ghost stories idea to suddenly seem less interesting to the other boys.
We prayed for the other boys to listen to Kevin’s requests instead of teasing him.
Mostly, we prayed that Kevin would feel God’s presence that night and that God’s love and presence would cast out his fear.

Y’all…for 5 years after that…all the way until Kevin was a junior in high school, he looked forward to that retreat. Every couple of months he would say, “I can’t wait for the retreat. Can we pray together again? That trip was so much fun.”

In our work to provide a fun space for students, before you start googling “youth group games” consider this instead. Consider listening to what your students really need. Consider where they are in life and what seemingly silly things they may be dealing with on a day-to-day basis, like being afraid of ghost stories.

When we listen to what our students are trying to say but do not have the words for, and allow the Holy Spirit to tell us what they need, we provide a space for students that is more fun than any game you could ever google; because they know they are safe as they are. They know they are seen. They know they are cared for.

And THAT is more fun to them than a penny on the face or a balloon on their ankle.

– Kurtis Vanderpool

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are your students that don’t enjoy or engage in “typical” youth ministry activities?
  2. What is something that might engage and excite them that is out of the ordinary?
  3. Think of a student (or multiple students) that vie for your attention. What needs might they be communicating?
  4. What might God be asking you to do to help Him meet that need in a way that communicated His love to that student or students?

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