When I started the youth ministry in Rockford, IL that grew to 1,000, I didn’t start with spiritual hungry giants.  Granted, the poor teenagers that comprised the youth group, had endured seven youth pastors in nine years, leaving them understandably hurt.  To say they’d become cynical and bitter was a gross underestimation.  Well-respected men in the Lord approached us with concern before we accepted the position at this church, telling us about their brief encounters with the youth.  Rich Wilkerson came to speak, and never even made it through his sermon before he took off his shoes and symbolically shook them and said, “This is what the Bible says I’m supposed to do with a bunch like you…shake the dust off my feet and move on.”  Then there was Lowell Lundstrum, who not only spoke to the kids, but out of concern, spoke to the parents.  His words weren’t pacifying nor were they condescending.  He simply compared the youth group to some of the hardest adolescent criminals in the nation, preferring the latter over their hardened church kids.  Soberly he advised them to get a hold of God.  And shortly after my husband accepted the position of senior pastor, with those attitude and issues, I began the foundation to what later became the same youth ministry people flew to observe.  But among the many principles used, this one created the spiritual tenor of the group.

In the beginning of two of the large ministries I’ve directed, the teenagers didn’t like me when I first arrived.  Immediately I was labeled a fake, a phony, and not given welcome gifts, but instead handwritten notes saying, “Go back to where you came from…”  Ironically they had no idea how desperately I wanted to go back to where I came from.  And in my humanness, my flesh ached to respond to their negative attitudes in a negative attitude, but in faith I stuck to the principle of sowing and reaping, for it applies to far more than just finances.  I knew whatever attitudes I initially sowed into the lives of each teenager, sooner or later I would reap like attitudes.  Instead of compounding the cycle of hurt and bitterness, I consciously chose to rise above my own carnality and insecurity and by the grace of God, love them in a firm but positive way.  Sarcastic remarks were returned with encouragement, scowls returned with smiles, and apathetic shrugs returned with an embrace.  When people watch my kids love on me, they ask dumbfounded, “How do you get them to love you like that?”  And I always respond very directly, “Make no mistake, I love them first.”  The easiest way to correct someone else’s attitude is to correct your own.  It’s a principle found in an old hymn… “Oh how I love Jesus…because He first loved me.”  Jesus lived it better than any of us could, and while business gurus and PR specialists come in to remarket this basic idea, He originated the concept that people like people who like them…