Connor Leadley | CLI Student Ministries Intern
On my twelfth birthday my entire family baptized me at Central’s Mesa Campus. There are a few things I remember vividly from that day—Cal riding in from the back of the Worship Center on a Harley and after the service my family was so excited about the after party at our house that they left me at church! Here I am, on my BIRTHDAY and baptism day walking around the campus looking for my family. I remember thinking that maybe once you get baptized you have to stay at church forever, and that Luke 14:26 is to be taken completely seriously:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
The funny thing is, staying at church forever actually became somewhat true for me…
Besides the four years I went to California for college, my entire church context was Central. I remember throwing wood blocks at other five-year-olds in pre-school and “playing” bass guitar for Quest (which was name for the elementary program). I remember being in Junior High and going to the farmland that is now the Gilbert campus and getting in trouble because I was playing in the mud a little bit too much.
Then there was high school…let’s just say that I was getting into trouble for other things than just playing in the mud. High school was a time of rebellion in my life. My family granted me the independence to be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do. My parents were not forceful or demanding with my church attendance, they empowered me to choose for myself if I was going to pursue Christ. I never felt like I was forced to go to youth group, yet I still managed to get up on Sunday mornings, no matter what I did Saturday night, and make my way to the Mesa Campus.
There was a very specific reason that motivated me to go to youth group: my sense of belonging at Central. What I mean is that I wanted to be at church, not because I was seeking spiritual growth, but because I was seeking a connection. I needed a place where I could be with my friends and be welcomed no matter who I was throughout the week. This connection came in the form of my Life Group. We were the most dysfunctional group of guys in the youth group and were always causing havoc. Our Life Group leader brought so much to the group. He was the glue that held us all together. Our leader gave us an environment that was extremely open; we were all able to discuss our struggles with him and each other, which provided the accountability that we so desperately needed. Our leader really understood what we needed: he knew us and we knew that he knew us. He gave us a place to belong and a place where we felt known.
My journey has now come full circle. I am on the Central’s Student Ministries (CSM) team as a staff member and I attribute the majority of my passion for youth ministry to the memories I have from my experience as a student in CSM. The times that I had with my Life Group are what I hope to bring to each student that comes into contact with CSM throughout his or her adolescent years. What I have learned is that students need a place where they feel known, a place they want to be, and most importantly a people that give them a sense of belonging. With CSM’s current mission—to make students feel known, valued, and connected—I believe that CSM is this place and are these people that will radically change the lives of students who are yearning for a connection.