Had an interesting experience the other night. It was a beautiful evening, I had a craving for a smokie dog, and there happen to be a couple of quite famous hot dog restaurants around 20 minutes north of the city. Driving past, the first one was full as usual and so I figured I'd check out the other one as which was just a little further. There were only a few customers inside, so I stood at the counter and waited. The young ladies behind the counter barely gave me a glance as they walked around doing various things - grabbing orders that had come up, looking together at the soft serve ice cream machine, and one was just walking slowly around the restaurant slowly sweeping. Minute by minute went by and no one even acknowledged that I was standing there waiting to order. Finally after at least 5 minutes I shrugged my shoulders and left. I drove back to the first restaurant which was still completely packed, and yet was able to immediately place my order.
Acknowledging people personally is something we see Jesus do quite often in the gospels. "Zacchaeus, come down from that tree." "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." "Who touched my garment?" “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Each time Jesus acknowledged someone personally He emphasized that they were important to Him and He affirmed their worth and value as individuals. This has probably become my most important tool in youth ministry - making the effort to acknowledge every youth who walks through the door, whether it be a youth night with 80-100 middle schoolers, or a Sunday School with youth and high schoolers together. Knowing how I personally respond to being acknowledged, I can only imagine how much more it is important to our young people who are going through the most difficult time of life in regards to self-esteem and self-worth.
Back to the restaurants I visited, both are very similar - retro 50's style, fantastic greasy spoon food, and prices that require a loan to eat there regularly; and yet one was jammed full of people on a warm Friday night and the other was almost empty. In the end, I was content to wait for my order, but I certainly was not prepared to wait without even be acknowledged so I could even make my order. It seems judging by the lineups at the first restaurant that I was not alone. In youth ministry we are always tempted with the notion that a bigger and better event will bring out the kids, but the truth is that their greatest desire is to be acknowledged and loved. Yes I do my best to do fun things, and yes I definitely strive to teach the bible well, but it starts with our youth knowing that when they walk in the door they are "home" and will be recognized as such. It's the knowledge that they are known and welcomed that opens the door for the rest. The gospel after all is a story about love.... the greatest love.