A Narrative on Youth Ministry in the Great Emergence: Life’ Teams

Posted: November 18, 2009 in Thesis, Uncategorized
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        Marty* was well known as the lowest of lows in the 7th grade popularity totem pole.  Sadly my only claim to fame was that I managed to stay the slightest notch ahead of Marty in the minefield of junior high (or at least I thought so).  At the time my family had very little money, lived in section eight housing, most mornings you could see the smoke and smell the marijuana that some of my fellow students enjoyed at the bus stop.  As low man on the totem pole at our stop I was often fending off fights to those who wanted to show off their status.  Without the means to buy the status clothing or move much beyond daily survival, to say that junior high was hard would be an understatement. 

            Marty ended his junior high career broken, on drugs, and failing most of his classes.  I ended junior high with more friends then when I started, hopeful for the future, and confident that God had a plan for me.  I thank God for Mr. Germino who helped make that happen.  Mr. Germino was the eccentric social studies teacher who you either loved or hated.  Though I loved his class and my appreciation for history blossomed, I never imagined he would become such a blessing in my life. 

            Spurred on by a powerful youth trip at my home church the summer before, God encouraged me in those days through the emerging Christian music movement of the 1980’s.  Whether I was desperate or just a cheese ball, music by Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Phil Driscoll, Keith Green, & Petra where my friends and a huge source of Christian encouragement in my life.   I was lonely and when I wasn’t inside the doors of our home I keenly felt the weight and onslaught of the junior high world I lived in.  The Christian community I’d experienced the summer before seemed like it was light years away and we lived too far away from the church for me to have a regular connection with that group.  I even tried getting involved with our local Christian skate night on Monday nights to listen to those musical partners of faith and find an island in the storm.  Yeah, I know, I said Christian skate night!

            I can still remember the hope of possibility I felt when I saw the list of lunch-time clubs at junior high included one on the “new” Christian rock.  Could it be there were others in the darkest place of my life that also held on to the same island I did?  Each club was hosted or sponsored by a faculty member and what a surprise it was as my eyes scrolled over to the right column to see that it was none other than my eccentric, balding, Santa Clause shaped, Italian history teacher Mr. Germino.

            The first lunch meeting was nothing fancy and to be honest the spectacle of it couldn’t match the hope of sanctuary I’d placed on it.  As we listened to musicians who compared to popular artists at the time I wondered if other people in the room got the kind of companionship I did from the music.  It wasn’t long before I began to learn that Mr. Germino not only loved the music our club listened to and discussed but was sincerely interested in the kids that showed up.  Slowly I began to feel that Mr. Germino considered me a ‘somebody’ beyond just another student on the role call.  

            Mr. Germino surprised me one week with a dubbed tape of one of his albums.  Instead of just giving me a gift, he offered me an invitation to share music together.  As an adult now I’m pretty sure the few albums I had may have already been in his collection but when I reciprocated with a tape I’d made for him.  However when he responded with true gratitude he affirmed me even more than the gift I had received.  Though the music sharing we did throughout junior high violated all kinds of copyright laws, it also inspired me to mow lawns so I could afford to make the 3 mile trek on my bike each Saturday to check out the latest music at our local Christian bookstore and buy the latest album of my favorite artists.

            Looking back the place-sharing he provided for me was something no youth group despite all of its blessings could have ever provided.  Squarely in the midst of my darkest place of suffering and assault Mr. Germino stood with me, and through our relationship became an incarnate presence of Christ on a campus that until then I had only dreaded.  Mr. Germino didn’t solve all my social and economic problems.  Life didn’t become rosy after I joined the Christian music club.  The battles at the bus stop only got worse, and my status on the junior high social ladder never soared.  However unlike my friend Marty, Mr. Germino provided a vision for me to see Christ and claim an identity for myself as fully human, indeed a precious child of God.  Jesus did this through Mr. Germino in a place that I never expected to be life giving, in a moment I needed it most, and at the location of my greatest suffering that no else had access to, not even my parents: the halls of Junior High.

            To be sure Mr. Germino was part of a chorus of place-holders that Christ put in my life and a critical bridge to the other work God was up to in me.  Through that relationship I understood in tangible ways that Christ was truly part of every corner of my life and not just compartmentalized to a summer experience, Christian skate night, home, or later on church groups on Sunday or Wednesday’s.

    When the greek word ζαω or Life is used in the New Testament it’s always talking about life in Christ.  Imagine a youth ministry for the Great Emergence that is built around relationships and not program.  Imagine empowering families, teachers, parents, congregational members, godparents, coaches, and adults to be more than the role that they hold but become for the Life Team of a youth concerned about who they are and their LIFE IN CHRIST.  Imagaine a youth minister whose job is more about empowering and connecting youth to these kind of God-bearing relationships and less of a program director.  Imagine mobilizing the Mr. Germino’s in the world around youth intentionally.   Imagine making sure the Marty’s of the world seek real LIFE through connecting them with the hand’s and feet of Christ with the Mr. Germino’s of the world.  In the comilng posts I plan to give real life examples both from my life and from others what LIFE TEAM chorus surrounding youth might look like.  I’ll  explore Biblical, theological, and recent research suggest reasons for a “team” and I hope to give some practical ideas on how a congregational ministry might Imagine a ministry like Life Teams.

      Marty missed the gift of purpose and drowned it out with drugs and alcohol before leaving junior high.  I still pray for that gift in his life today.  The witness to the otherness of God, the transformation of my own identity, and the light of hope in the midst of darkness will forever be marked in my life by the way my eccentric, Italian, hero Mr. Germino became the incarnate Christ in the halls of junior high.      Imagine that in a middle school near you!

*Marty isn’t his real name

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