Mountain Top Experience
It is safe to say that I have the best job at PPC. Others may debate it, but I am convinced. I just returned from a three day trip with our high school students to Durango, Colo., for our annual ski trip. I am not a skier or a snowboarder, so it isn’t the perks like a weekend of skiing that steals the title for me, but it is the company. Our teens continually show me what being the church is all about. I have been truly blessed to be a part of their lives, and I am confident that Brandon would second that. I know that many of you haven’t had the opportunity to get to know them personally and to be intimately involved in their lives, so let me give you a glimpse of who they are and what their vision of the church is, it truly is inspiring and humbling.
I will focus on our high school group, since that is who I spent 78 hours with this weekend (20 of which was in a 12-passenger van). Our group is composed of roughly 25 regular attenders with another 15 or so that come in and out. Due to the geographic location of PPC we pull from at least eight different high schools (Foothills Academy, Notre Dame, Chaparral, Scottsdale Prep, Scottsdale Christian Academy, Pinnacle, Horizon, and Paradise Valley). So the group doesn’t get to spend all of their time together during the week, yet the intimacy of these teens is deeper than can be imagined.
You may be asking, “How can a group of high school students teach a pastor anything about what the church is?” So I will tell you. These teens have solidified for me that the church is about relationships (forming new ones and nurturing existing ones), the church is about helping others, and the church is about being honest enough to share your authentic self with people you meet. All of this is done to the glory of God and as a witness to they truth that scripture reveals.
Though the group doesn’t see each other everyday, they maintain connections — texting, Facebooking, playing Words With Friends. They have found ways that despite their crazy schedules and their overbooked lives they are aware of what each one is doing and how they can support each other. When there has been a death in a family, the group rallies around that person. When life is tough or family dynamics change, these teens are present and ready to “be there” for each other.
It is difficult to fight your way into a tight group, but every year I see these teens make progress in their awareness of other people and welcoming them into the fold. They recognize that they are not all the same and have come to appreciate that gift. Thus, they don’t expect others to fit their mold but instead try to get to know the uniqueness of each other and celebrate that. They own that we have been called to be inclusive, to welcome the stranger and begin to call them friend.
One of the biggest events of the year is our summer mission trip. We started with six high school students our first year; last year we had 27 go with us to Fresno, Calif. They have found joy in serving. We have teens regularly serving in the life of PPC. They teach church school and vacation bible school, we have a number of teens who have been ordained as deacons, we have a teen serving on our worship committee, one who sat on the Open Table, teens who serve at Andre House, UMOM, and who have helped with our Habitat homes. They are called to serve when we need extra hands; they are called to serve when we need help with our computers. We have teens that after graduation have mentored other teens through confirmation. They don’t ever reply “what do I get for this,” but they have discovered that being a part of the church means serving together. They know our congregation is doing remarkable things in our community and in the world and that they are blessed to be a part of it.
In everything that they do, they bring who they are to the table. They share their passions, their views, their gifts and they celebrate those of other's as well. They don’t pretend to be something they are not, but are comfortable in their own skins and are proud of who they are. That also means that when life is hard and they are overwhelmed, they don’t hesitate to be open about their burdens; they share all of who they are with each other, because that is what true community is all about.
We could all learn something from them. They don’t take each other for granted and they don’t try to be something they are not. They are welcoming and loving and gracious. They are the church. In everything they do they display their confidence that God has promised life to be more than what we see around us, that the pain and stress isn’t what life is all about. Life is about being with each other, helping other people, and trusting in God’s promises that a new reality is on the horizon and that we are blessed to be a part of the journey there.
May each of us find our inner teen — that can dance as if no one is watching, that can sing full out knowing that their voice is beautiful, that can have fun while riding in a van for 10 hours. I am grateful that they constantly remind me of that reality and that God is a part of it all.
I encourage you to make a point to get to know our teens and the children of PPC. They are truly inspirational and great examples of who the church is called to be.