High School Ministry: Children of the Kingdom
by Lisa Hardwick
I grew up in the church. I could sing the songs, recite the Scriptures, and talk about the Jesus who lived in my heart. I knew if I walked quickly enough from the car to the church building, I would get to the doughnuts before all the good ones were taken. To me, church tasted like a glazed doughnut with chocolate frosting and tiny pink sprinkles. My relationship with God was simple as a child: God died for my sins. God answered all my prayers. God wanted me to follow His rules. He loves me, and I loved Him.
“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14, 15, NASB).
Trying to Cope
By the time I reached high school things didn’t seem so simple. I had developed bulimia as a means to cope with impossibly high expectations I had assigned myself. I was a straight-A student and a talented athlete, but I was a slave to my own desires for perfection. My parents sought professional medical treatment for my health. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and treated with prescription medications. I was counseled by a dietitian for several months but it only put a band-aid over the bigger emotional wound that drove my eating disorder.
In addition to medical treatment, I was encouraged to join a weekly small group of girls from our youth group. My goal was to blend into the background and remain unnoticed. My small group leaders were not deterred by my reluctance to engage with the group, and they pursued me until I trusted them. They sacrificed weekend hours to take me to coffee shops so I could talk about whatever I wanted to talk about. They opened their homes to our small group to cook us dinner and make us feel like family. They showed up to surprise us at our swim meets or cross-country races and cheered us on from the sidelines. They didn’t simply tell us about the gospel—they lived it.
Taking Off the Mask
After several months I felt comfortable enough to speak out to my small group, and I shared my secrets with them. Compassion poured out of my leaders and my new friends as they surrounded me with hugs and shared tears. I no longer had to carry my burden alone. Here’s a video clip I shared upon graduation from high school . . .
I met my husband to-be as a freshman in college, and we were married the summer after my sophomore year. We were idealistic and bright-eyed. We wanted to change the world for the gospel of grace, but then life got a little harder. And more expensive. Clear black and white lines I had accepted as a child started to blur into inky grays. Little by little, we stopped attending church. We stopped reading the Word. We stopped praying. I graduated from college and secured a good job. I found comfort in my paycheck, and I found relief from stress through drinking and partying. I stopped binging and purging food, but I replaced that habit with binge drinking. I spent the next six years in and out of treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I received several promotions to climb the corporate ladder, but each increase in pay seemed to only increase the tightness in my chest and the darkness in my mind.
At twenty-seven years old, I began cutting and dieting to the extreme. I was lost. I found no purpose in life, and I called myself an agnostic. On paper I looked successful. On paper, everything was going to plan. Eventually I revealed my self-destructive habits to my husband, and we decided it was time for a change. We moved to his hometown in Ohio, but we struggled to find good jobs, despite our shining résumés. Doors were closed. Applications were rejected. But God was working.
Pursuing God as He Pursued Me
After several months my husband secured three part-time jobs, and his first client worked for Christ’s Church Mason. She invited us to church, and I said no. She asked us again, and I said no. She asked us a third time, and I agreed to sit through a church service. We were late, and we sat in the back row. I couldn’t hear the sermon because the Holy Spirit began to shake my soul. The Jesus whom I invited into my heart as a child had never left me, despite my years of wandering in a Sinai wilderness of doubt and distraction. I wept, and I asked for forgiveness. I asked the Lord to turn my life around. I asked for a new start.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).
Life became simple once again. I was given a clear purpose: to love God and to love people. That’s it. Those were my only objectives, so I searched for jobs that would allow me to do just that. He provided. My income became next to nothing. He provided. On paper, I had lost everything. In my soul, I had peace. I began to volunteer with Christ’s Church high school ministry, and I became a small group leader. I wanted to plant the same seeds that had been planted in me during my early years. I knew I didn’t need to be eloquent or inspiring to make a difference. I knew I just needed to show up. And listen. When I ask God to speak through me, He does. When I ask Him to send me girls who need His hope, they arrive just as they are.
The past four years I have been a small group leader for girls in high school. I have had girls weep onto my shoulder as we sit on my old, gray couch and live life together. I have listened to stories of desperation, and I have seen miraculous healing. These young women make me laugh until I cry, and they inspire me to live with passion. We decorate cookies together at Christmas, and we eat buckets of popcorn. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. We always pray together. I sit in the front row as a witness to the glory of God as He lives and moves and works through these ladies. I am a simple seed sower, and God creates the everlasting blooms.
If you feel God calling you to serve in our church’s high school ministry, email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Lisa Hardwick is a wife, mommy, and Nashville native who loves coffee-fueled fellowship and authentic relationships.