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Ten years ago, I experienced a call from God to start a youth group at my home church. I was 18 (would turn 19 by the end of that summer) at the time and I remember thinking, "Am I qualified to do this with no funding and no help?" So, I got some help! I asked a friend of mine who grew up with me at my home church, as well as her husband, to help lead the youth group. They were on board, the families were on board with us being in charge and bringing their kids to youth...now we just had to make them a place that felt like their own.
In my home church, the basement was traditionally the place where youth were placed (when we had a youth group in my junior high days!). So it was only natural that would be their place again. The problem is, at one point between youth groups, it had been designated as a special event and special meeting room. It had been painted a *lovely* brown/yellow and had small, thin, brown vines by some of the windows. It was clearly not a fun space for youth. On top of that, the furniture in the basement was ancient! The pool table was old when I was in junior high and they had purchased the foosball table (that was beat up like all foosball tables become) when I was in youth. We had brown, metal chairs, chipping paint, and old furniture and items stored in this space. It was covered in dust and dirt.
So transformed the space. We cleaned. We swept. We mopped. We moved things around. But there was no funding for paint at the time. We were going to need some nice, comfy seating for the kids, so we had our pastor at the time announce in church that we were looking for someone to bring an old couch up for the youth.
When we asked for volunteers to give us old couches, we envisioned maybe a member or two getting new furniture and needing to give their furniture to a worthy cause. We envisioned soft, comfortable seating. We imagined clean material. Our hopes were too high.
One Sunday, the three of us walked in to our space to find an old, yellow couch. It was a two-toned yellow--one part had only a semi-dirt-covered yellow and the other had a dirt-covered yellow. It was an old sleeper sofa, but you wouldn't have known by looking at it. When you took the cushions off and pulled the bed out, the mattress was maybe an inch thick, still had old sheets on it, and smelled horribly. Even taking the cushions off was an adventure. Dust flew everywhere. And the cushions had been well used. It was clear this had been in someone's storage shed, untouched for decades.
Perhaps what felt like a kind gesture from a well-meaning member was not received as such (and if you're reading this blog and you're the one who donated it--I'm not trying to say you are a bad person--you probably were truly well-meaning and wanted to see the group start). I remember the kids walking in, saying, "Oooohh, a couch!" They ran over to it so they could jump on it, but upon further inspection, they stopped themselves short and said, "GROSS!!! Why is it so old and dirty?" Their faces fell. They felt what we leaders had been feeling--we felt incredibly discouraged. We knew our church was struggling financially--that wasn't what we were upset about. We were upset that someone thought, "I have an old couch that hasn't been used in decades! It's dirty, it's dusty, and I wouldn't sit on it...but they're kids, they won't care." They did care...and so did we. We would have rather had no couch than have felt as though our youth room was a garbage dump for old furniture others would never sit on themselves again.
I've been thinking about this yellow couch lately. I think it's a good, physical representation of the ways we fall short as Christians. If you're going to believe in and follow Christ, you can't do it half way. You can't join a church and say, "Yes, I commit to giving my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness" and then only pray on Sunday with the pastor, only show up to church for Christmas and Easter, only place some spare change in the plate once in a while, show up to no events or activities, and not share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. When you show up halfway, others notice it. When you only put half of yourself into being a disciple, it's like you're trying to skate in flip-flops or you're trying to cook a steak with no heat. It doesn't work. If you truly seek to be a follower of Christ, to give all that you have, you're going to be there 100%. You're going to give it your all, so much so that everything you do, every decision you make, will be based on where you are in your relationship with Christ.
A couple months after the yellow couch arrived, the married youth leaders helping me brought in their old, sectional couch. It was far from perfect, but it was clean, it was comfortable, and it wasn't so new that the youth couldn't enjoy it. It was perfect and was used for years! For those youth leaders, it was a sacrifice to give their old couch--they could have sold it and made some money for their young family. Instead, they chose to give their all to the youth and give their all to God.
We cannot truly say we are living in a relationship with Christ if we are not putting our all into it. Christ is always all-in. Christ wants the relationship with us! It's us who gets to choose whether or not we will go all-in in return. The easy thing to do is to give a "yellow couch" worth of an effort--enough to say you did something, but not enough to truly benefit you. The more difficult thing to do is to follow God in an "old, sectional couch" way--serving others, sacrificing time you could be on social media to pray instead, give an intentional monetary gift to the church or a charity each month, and volunteer at church or community activities where you can share God's love with others. Following Christ is not easy--it's tough. But it's worth it!