by Samantha Tidball
Recently, I had a conversation with someone about his understanding of the function of church. He told me that he once heard a preacher say that the church is about saving souls. This preacher believes that if there are any activities in the church that are not about saving souls and doing what matters for eternity, than those events should be shut down. This person agreed with the preacher and emphasized the importance of our church having the same goal. I didn’t say much, mainly sat back and listened to his opinion. In the moment, he made sense and I admired this man’s passion for people knowing Christ.
After thinking about the conversation, I glanced at the youth calendar and thought about how our first event of the year was going to matter for eternity. I looked down and read in big bold letters, “PAINT WAR.”  I led myself to believe that perhaps some teenager would come who didn’t know Jesus, and he would have sooooo much fun that he would keep coming back to church and eventually get saved after hearing about Jesus. I think this is what goes through every youth minister’s mind.
Then I just chuckled to myself and went back to Googling paint in bulk sizes.
I learn new things in youth ministry every single day. For example, I had no idea how hard it would be to pull off a youth group paint war at the request of our juniors and seniors. It seemed like big easy fun, but finding paint in bulk sizes led to a few road trips outside of town. As I was driving long distances and stressing out at Wal-Mart (since they were transitioning into fall sales items and bulk paint wasn’t really in season), I kept asking myself, “Is this stress really worth it? How is driving an hour out of my way on my day off to buy paint in bulk sizes really going to matter in these kid’s lives for eternity? Is it really going to help them know Jesus?” I never quite came to a conclusion.
Sunday finally came and all the planning was supposed to fall into place. I was keeping my fingers crossed, hoping we had enough paint, balloons, sponges, barriers, and volunteers to pull this off. Dressed in white with big grins on their faces, my students showed up to participate in this epic battle. There were a handful of new students who came. Some youth ministers and church leaders would call me crazy, but I didn’t plan a talk or a message that day. I simply let my kids be kids and have fun.
As I was standing in the middle of the battle ground between two teams armed with water balloons and paint filled sponges, I saw God in color literally and figuratively. I saw students who were stressed out with school and all the pressures of college and the ACT completely free in the moment from all of their academic pressures. I saw students who I knew were going through extremely difficult circumstances regarding their home lives smiling as they were covered head to toe in paint. I saw students who I knew had gone through some major relationship drama at school embraced and accepted by other teenagers on their paint war team. I saw some of the most introverted teenagers step out expressing themselves with enthusiasm and joy. I watched as teens with God-given leadership skills united their teams together, giving everyone a sense of belonging. And this was their spiritual act of worship. I knew I was seeing this moment through God’s eyes as my heart was full of joy and I could sense the Holy Spirit through this act of worship.  I knew God was smiling and his heart was full with even greater joy than mine. His love for his children is so big. He delighted in them having fun in a holy way free from the pressures of this world.
Did anybody come to know Jesus through this event? Probably not. Are the new students going to keep coming to our church and get saved because of this event? In my experience that doesn’t happen very often. I think my job in youth ministry and the job of the church is to help everyone (regardless of whether they are saved or not) see and experience the risen Christ. Maybe that means singing songs inside church, listening to a sermon, and praying. Maybe that means having an epic paint war and helping students realize they can have fun in a holy way instead of getting drunk or being promiscuous. Maybe it means as a church we simply love God and love others, and reflect who Jesus is in everything we do instead of trying to create an emotional rush with forced prayer to see how many people we can get to heaven.
I know that God works in a variety of mysterious ways to bring people to his kingdom. I don’t mean to be negative or to say one way is better than another. The goal of the church is to be a sanctuary for everyone. Everyone needs God no matter how far along they are in their particular faith journey. Sometimes I think Christians are so worried about saving souls that they miss out on truly loving someone or helping them with their needs. Some Christians are so focused on saving souls for eternity that they forget to help the hurting people right in front of their faces.
In my experience, most students have been given by the church a black and white picture of who Jesus is, but the church has failed to help students experience the risen Christ in color.
Samantha Tidball is a graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training. She lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. and blogs at