A terrible, horrible youth club night

I’m now in one of those hideous, dark moods because of tonight’s youth club. It started okay, and was mildly boisterous. This was understandable really because the local Secondary School had an INSET day preceded by a one-to-one interview day which meant that most of them hadn’t had much stimulation for two days (the one-to-one day just seems like a bit of a skyve to me, but still…)

I had planned what I thought was a good talk – about Christ the light in the darkness: a candle had burned unnoticed in the room all evening, and I’d got them into groups to discuss things which the world saw as important, and then to share them. The plan was then to turn out the lights and show how the light stands out, linking it with Jesus, the light of the world and then how they can be a light of hope for others.

It was a disaster.

They messed around during the ideas. My team descended into the groups to get them to focus, and they found it really hard work. Some groups were so disengaged and disruptive (there were 38 young people there – a few less than normal) and it was impossible to share their thoughts, even though some of them had some good ideas.  I turned down the lights and the candle shone brightly and they just kicked off.

The lack of respect just hit me square in the chest: in one of those demoralising, epiphanous moments, I realised that this was an enormous waste of time and effort. The afternoon’s work I had put in had been wasted, and I had let my Lord down and failed him.  I have often joked that doing a ‘God-Slot’ at this youth club is a bit like Paul standing at the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-34 – front line evangelism, and if Saint Paul can get laughed at then maybe so should I – he is after all a better evangelist than me.

But their behaviour was just so appalling. I told them so. In no uncertain terms. There is both an explicit contract that they sign up to as members of the club and an implicit contract, neither of which I felt that they had honoured, so I have suspended the youth club for a week to let them understand how far beyond the pail I felt they went. I will be writing to the parents of all the regular attenders to explain why I have suspended the club for a week. When you make a threat you have to follow it through.

So now, I feel a complete failure. The team were wonderfully supportive, and although I gave them plenty of opportunity to tell me that I was wrong, they all supported my actions. I am in a bit of a crisis over it myself though: self-doubt and insecurity are my biggest failings and so the constant nag that I should have handled that better, that youth workers perhaps should tolerate much more, that the Gospel is big enough and important enough to break through into their lives, and that I let them down rather than them letting me down.

The truth is somewhere in the middle of all this. I am very depressed now. A horrible, horrible night. I pray for redemption, both for myself and for those whom God has placed in my care, and that somehow, in the light of a new dawn, I can start afresh and bring these young people into an encounter with the sacred.