A youth group that welcomes the rebels and the religious

How Did He Do It?  I recently read through the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15.  And this time what stuck out to me was not the son's rebellion, not the other son's hard heart, not even the father's lavish grace.  This time when I read through this story I was struck by what was not said, what was not described, but what must have been true in the relationship between the father and his boys.

Of course it is a lavish grace that the father extends, but what is amazing is that the manner in which the father lived in front of his sons made it possible for both of them to return to intimate relationship.  Somehow the father communicated his love and grace because the prodigal son knew in the depth of his being that his father would take him back.  I know that the scriptures place him in a humble position, willing to take a position as a slave, but still the son knew that he could go back, even after completely shaming his family and specifically, his father. So at the depth of despair, in his hour of need, he remembered that his childhood home was an option to get him out of this mess.

This is the part of the story that I wish there was more clarity on.  How in the world did the father communicate his overwhelming love and grace to his sons so that they knew in their heart of hearts that they would always have a place at the table?

A Ministry That Reflects the Father's Heart:

As we kick off another year of student ministry, I am confronted with the awful reality that there is little rhyme or reason to the spiritual life of a teenager.  One season they are on fire, leaders in their youth group and on their campus, the next they bottom out and walk away from it all.  Some students push away as hard as they can as a kind of test to see how much our love and grace will stretch.  Others find fulfillment in being the teacher's pet of youth group, but inside their heart is just as cold and unredeemed.

No matter what path our students take in their walk with God, I am inspired to lead a ministry that reflects the lavish love and grace our Father has given to us.  Somehow I want to live in a way that the rebellious kid knows that the church, the people of God, and God Himself is always anxiously waiting on the edge of our property scanning the horizon, longing for their return.  And when they do come back, to heap celebration on them, not shame.

I also want to be loving enough to make sure I am not caught up in the religiosity of my best kids.  In the process of them being my number one leader, their heart could be growing cold and distant and, without realizing it, I could be teaching them that their identity and worth is dependent upon performance, not on the fact that God simply loves them.  I must continue to run after these students, lavish God's love and grace and continue to invite them to the party!

May our youth group be a place where all are welcomed, no matter their past, their present, or their future.  When they are here they will experience love and grace, and when they remain outside out of protest or rebellion, I will mimic the actions of the Father and invite them back in,  anxiously scanning the horizon for their return.