Our theme for 2018 is “The Life.” We explore that theme today with…..

The Life of the Cry Night


Ali Chappel Dehay is a Youth Minister at Calvary Baptist in Waco, Texas. She graduated from Meredith College and got her Masters at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. Ali likes living in the Lone Star State, but misses North Carolina every day. She loves sports, and especially cheering on the Baylor Bears, Boston Red Sox, and Carolina Panthers. She and her husband have a 68lb Australian Shepherd who Ali plans to dress up as a hot dog for Halloween

Growing up as a moderate Baptist in central North Carolina and Virginia imposed upon me what most would call a pretty “traditional” youth ministry experience. We had a couple retreats per year, went to camp each summer, and went on a mission trip; this is of course in addition to weekly times of bible study & fellowship.
Although the youth ministries I participated in were what most would call theologically “moderate,” many of the traditions surrounding certain youth events retained old-school traditions from years before. One of these traditions was the ever-famous, simultaneously loved and hated, confusing, but wonderful, emotional, “cry night.”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the “cry night” is often the last night of a retreat, youth camp, or mission trip when many people share how meaningful that time of spiritual renewal has been to them. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be in theory.
A few times, there would be a retreat wide altar call or a group reflection time on the last night of a trip and I had zero emotion regarding the event. However, I seemed to be the only one.
Everyone around me was like…

and I actually felt encouraged by the service and wasn’t sad so I was like…

I also have a face that naturally forms into a smile when it’s not sure what else to do, so meanwhile during “cry night” I’m smiling and everyone else is sobbing or really “wanting to be alone.” That’s a hard place to be when you’re 13, not sure of yourself, and just wanting to fit in with the group. I wanted to be like everyone else, dang-it. Why wasn’t I crying?!
This disappointment in myself turned into a feeling of shame that stayed with me throughout my years as a student in youth ministry, and I felt like I was doing something wrong in my relationship with God because I wasn’t getting as emotional as my friends.
Fast-forward twelve years… I am now a youth minister.
The church where I serve is medium size, and because of this, the youth ministry generally goes to camp each year but doesn’t generally go on a youth only mission trip. This year, my youth team decided it would be a great idea to pursue a youth only mission trip instead of camp. So… after hours and weeks and sleepless nights of planning, we make it to New Orleans for the first ever Calvary “youth only” mission trip.
Each night we did reflections on the day, and each morning the students did devotionals before heading out for the work day. Then, on the last night I ended up leading a longer time of reflection just to re-cap all that we had done this week. Innocently, I thought my kids would have meaningful things to share, and I hadn’t even considered that some of them might get emotional.
Approximately 6 minutes into group reflection time, 1/3 of the youth looked like this…

I had no idea where this came from, we had students crying, I teared up, and I felt like a failure because I had clearly dropped the ball in allowing things to take a turn in this direction. TEARS. NO. Everything I taught and thought reigned against being moved to tears on a youth trip. (well, not really, but I definitely didn’t encourage crying during times of reflection due to my own experience as a youth who couldn’t show emotion AT ALL)
However, as students cried, we acknowledged those emotions and listened to them as they shared their feelings regarding the trip and how it had affected them, but we also continued conversation regarding our week (much of which included laughter, smiles, and even tough topics like welfare, healthcare, equity for all, etc.). The group ended with a beautiful time of prayer and fellowship to commemorate what was a powerful week in the Crescent City.
I learned a few things from this last night in New Orleans experience…

  1. People respond differently to God’s movement in their lives. Some students cry, some don’t. Either is normal, but both should be expected at some point.
  2. We must acknowledge together that people respond differently to God’s movement in their lives. This is a place where shame can be prevented by youth leaders in their student’s spiritual journeys.
  3. Limiting the Spirit to a “cry night” is mega-stupid on the part of youth ministers. How dumb are we to think that we can relegate emotions like this to a few times a year?! Make sure your youth know they can be honest in their emotions with you (or another leader in your group) no matter what day, week, or season it is.
  4. Now, fair warning – if your youth group is one that knows the “cry night” well, adjusting to a different kind of reflection time may make some people feel like they didn’t get as much out of it. That’s okay, they’ll adjust.
  5. The prevalence of tears (or lack thereof) has NO correlation to the spiritual capability or teaching proficiency of a youth leader.

These may seem like a simple lesson, but emotions are so important to youth ministry, because they’re so integral to who the students are becoming. Even if students are hormonal and going through puberty and heartbroken and doubting, love them, embrace their crazy, and listen to them. After all…
“feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”
– Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl