Last week we loaded up the chuch van with a middle school students, a few Jimmy John’s sandwiches, some Axe Body spray, and a lot of patience to head off to Goshen, Virginia. Every year The Jeremiah Project hosts JOURNEY. JOURNEY is a retreat weekend specifically designed for middle school students. The Jeremiah Project is known for organizing and hosting events that are not only executed professionally but also offer quality presenters that most youth retreats on the east coast do not provide to churches.
MarkO is a middle school pastor, youth ministry consultant, and the bearer of a pretty narley beard. His beard alone gives him incredible street-cred.
Living an uncommon life is what Christians are called to do. In a time when we are being told to fall into line one way or another (mostly politically right now) it was refreshing to see a room of 250+ students discern how they can live an uncommon when they are being told to standardize everything they do. Everyday these students are told them need to conform to a certain profile: jock, popular kid, band-geek, nerds, awkward boy/girl, and the list could go on and on.
MarkO challenged the students to break free from the commonality they are being pushed into and to embrace the uncommon life Christ calls each of us to lead. This uncommon life is intimidating for middle school students. The vast majority of these students do everything possible to not standout. They will do everything in their power to prevent themselves from standing out in the crowd.
The beauty of what MarkO did was he took the stigma of standing out away for the students. That’s right, he made it OK to stand out. By using AWESOME and I mean AWESOME Biblical storytelling to take stories many of the students had never heard before, MarkO helped the students (at least the ones I brought) see where they can step out in faith as an uncommon follower of Jesus. He even took the stigma off taking the first-step of deciding to follow Jesus for the first time. One of the greatest criticism of these kinds of retreats is the last night (“cry-night”) manipulation that often happens.
“Jesus saw you on the cross as he died. He died for you. His blood is on you.”
This kind of language is manipulative. Assembling a room full of middle school students who are sleep deprived and vulnerable and THEN guilting them into accepting Christ is flat out wrong.
MarkO went above and beyond this low end of the theological gene pool charades.
MarkO’s invitation was not only to learn more about Jesus but also to live the uncommon life God has imagined for us all. And as a youth pastor who is often cringing when these moments happens I greatly appreciated the delicate way MarkO approached this moment and the way in which he kept the invitation to follow Christ inviting and not manipulative.
I say how much I appreciated the work MarkO and the JOURNEY staff did for all of the students at this retreat.
We are all called to live uncommonly as follower of Jesus, not just middle school students.