Ezra’s Testimony – Part Four


Continuing a previous story about Karyn and my previous experience of leading a youth group in Oakley:

…There was a girl in the youth group who was very inclusive and invited her closest friends and new friends from school to this group and made others feel welcomed and loved. The group grew pretty naturally as each person that came didn’t want to miss out on the fun time we had laughing and talking about life and having a 15-30 minute discussion that directed teens toward the Bible for answers about the discussion. Eventually the limitations of the building we were meeting in became a problem, because it was an after school care portable and the YMCA staff was not happy when some of their furniture or things were not positioned as they left them. Our group got pretty rowdy during some ice-breaker games as well. Attendance was around 15-22 teens at this time.

The church decided to rent the same multi use room that the church normally met in on the same property on Tuesday nights, which seemed like a big jump, but it was really a great thing not to have to move things out of the way and put them back every week. We had way more room to do more physical games with running around and eventually monthly music events. Teens from the neighborhood riding bikes poked their head in to ask what was going on, and we would invite them in to join us. There were three girls who were close friends and were cheerleaders that came pretty regularly. Several new guys started coming too, I think mostly because they wanted to get the attention of one of those girls. Attendance was peaking around the mid 40’s, and we had one of my brothers and his wife helping when we split the group up for separate junior high & high school discussions. About 20 or so teens went to youth camp each year too.

At one point Karyn had the idea to hand out notebooks or pads of paper for each teen to write in for ten minutes each week. During the week, Karyn & I would read what each of the teens wrote and write a note of encouragement, acknowledgement or counsel and give it back to them on the next week. This really helped us to get to know everyone better and brought to light some of the more private concerns certain teens had, and helped us to pray for the teens and craft better and more relevant discussions that would assist them in areas they struggled with. Karyn and I loved working with the teens and we still consider many of them (who are not teens any more) great friends even today.

We eventually felt that we needed to pull back from our role in youth ministry and address some needs with our growing family, and started training a new leader to get started. I believed we should leave the church in Oakley we were going to and find a church closer to our home in Antioch, and in our own community. It was weird not being youth leaders for a few years, and Karyn and I have helped in Edgewater’s previous youth group a little in Pittsburg, but eventually got excited to start again with more focus on each of us connecting well with individuals, and letting the group grow naturally in Pittsburg as well, however God directed us.

Karyn and Cyndi got together and planned some joint events between our two youth groups and eventually decided to merge Hillside’s and Edgewater’s Youth Groups into one. We had fun working together and it made the ministry more effective at connecting with teens and not burning out as leaders (leading teens can be hard work). After becoming one group, we grew to be larger than we were as separate groups and were a totally different group altogether. Then we named our group “Wired Youth Group” and have made programming and format changes each week to try to better connect with each other respectfully and communicate effectively.

We realized quickly that Wired youth group can’t be led exactly the same way as all of our previous groups were led, and we are still trying different things and learning as leaders how to best lead this group. We have appreciated the prayers and encouragement we have received from teens, parents, and our respective churches. We want to have a little slice of God’s kingdom to be revealed here with God’s love and peace lived out here on earth as it already is in Heaven. We still have a lot of work to do, but a lot of this learning and development is being done between us each week, as we develop patience and understanding that we are all wired differently and not everybody has the same needs or gifts. I personally feel very excited to be a part of what God is doing among this group and am energized whenever I get together with Karyn and Cyndi and discuss what we plan to do next. We really are all better together.

When I was a teen, I personally was impacted by a community of believers who cared about me, while I was distancing myself from the style my parents had when they did life, even though they loved God too. I want to be available for teens navigating their own spirituality and wrestling with their beliefs and the application of their faith, as others were available to me years ago. I hope to have a youth group where teens in Pittsburg, Antioch and its surrounding cities can meet, care about each other, and call it their own. I want to get to know all of the guys pretty well, and have Karyn & Cyndi connect well with the girls. I hope to foster an atmosphere where teens who don’t believe in God feel welcomed and can learn what it means to believe. I hope to encourage teens and others to live out their faith in a way that is as unique as they are, because God made each of us as individuals, and has a best plan for each us. I don’t really know what God is going to do, or how he will use each of us, but He has a track record of doing great things when people who love Him make themselves available to do whatever He leads them to do. I am excited to see how God will continue to use Karyn, Cyndi and me to get His plan for us all rolling and bringing glory to God through the lives of our teenagers.

We need your support as teens in this group to listen when teaching and instructions are being given. We want you to respect each other by trying not to distract others from listening and learning, and by accepting guidance and correction without taking it personally or ignoring us. We love you all and don’t want you to miss out on all that we are becoming as a unified group. We want to get to know you all better, so please reach out to us and share what is on your mind with us in your notebooks. It is hard to connect when you don’t let us get know you better. Feel free to ask us questions about ourselves as well. We really want to connect with you. You also can send me text messages, that is totally fine too.

We will continue to need support from adults in ways that really help us to be more effective and to continue the momentum as God’s Spirit works through us. I hope that others will catch this vision as well and help us to continue to be available each Tuesday night to be present, focused, and to know that our younger 3 other children are all in good hands.

A successful Youth Group requires more than good ideas, fun and adequate funding. It requires a lot of behind the scenes support as well. I don’t want to pretend to know what current teenagers are dealing with, or think that doing everything the same way we did in Oakley will work out the same way in Pittsburg & Antioch, but with God’s help and your agreement in prayer, we will not regret putting time and resources into this. As this group grows in unity and momentum, God providing, we will want to train more adult volunteers to keep the peace and connect with teens or chaperone to off site events, but for now, we want to continue to keep a consistent meeting time and place that you and your friends won’t want to miss.

-Ezra Engle