Shelby McMillon, like millions of other teens this spring, graduates from high school and heads for college in August. With growing concern about today’s teens and their connection with the church, The Christian Chronicle takes this opportunity to ask for a teenager’s perspective.
Shelby is active in her youth group at the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. In addition to high school and a concurrent college class, she volunteers each Thursday evening at an inner-city mission church in Oklahoma City. Each year at spring break she travels with a group to build houses for Habitat for Humanity in San Antonio. Last summer, she did campaign work in Honduras and plans the same again this summer.
While attending Memorial High School in Edmond, Okla., McMillon sang in the choir, lettered in cross-country, was a member of National Honor Society and helped with a district-wide charity fundraising drive that collected nearly a half-million dollars.
Her hobbies are reading, running and hanging out with friends. She lives with her parents, Jeff and Sydney, and her younger sister, Savannah. She plans to attend Oklahoma Christian University in the fall.
Note: If the last name looks familiar, there’s a reason: Shelby McMillon is the granddaughter of Christian Chronicle editor Lynn McMillon and his wife, Joy. How do you express your faith in Jesus?
I generally express my belief in Jesus by being open about my faith. Being in high school, I often have people ask me why I believe what I believe and wonder why I don’t participate in activities that they do.
Personally, these types of questions do not upset me because it gives me an opportunity to share my faith. I generally am very open about my faith and the way I live because I have a Father in heaven that loves me no matter how many times I’ve messed up. Even though I’m not anywhere close to perfect, I try to live for him and treat people the way I know Jesus would have treated them. How do you hope to fulfill your Christian mission in life?
Going to college next year, I plan to continue growing in my walk with God. Even though I’ve always been a go-with-the-flow kind of person, I’ve been sure of the fact that I need to keep up with my spiritual discipline, and I feel pretty passionate about that. I love talking to people, whether I know them well or not. I hope, as I get older, I will meet people that I can be a mentor to as I’ve also been blessed by many people that I can model my faith after.
I’m very involved at an inner-city mission church in Oklahoma City, and I hope to continue to build relationships with kids down there and minister the love of Jesus to them. It’s also really important to me to find a good Christian guy that will challenge me to be a better Christian every day. In those ways, I hope I can successfully fulfill my mission as a Christian. How can young people your age be reached for Jesus?
I think that kids my age view Christians as judgmental hypocrites and generally try to stay away from the church for fear of not being accepted. I’ve had several friends complain that this is the reason they don’t come or have stopped coming. This discourages me. I think one way that we can help this is by talking to people outside of our comfort zones. I think that if we, as a Christian family, step away from what we’re comfortable with and see things from an outsider’s view, it will be easier to reach out to young people.
What are you and your friends looking for in religion?
Growing up in the church, I’ve always been blessed with solid Christian friends. Something we’ve always strived to do is not to gossip and to see everyone in a good light. This is difficult, especially for many teenage girls. Although we aren’t always perfect about it, my friends and I discuss how we should be trying to break the stereotype and see and treat all people without judgment or criticism. Are your non-Christian friends interested in becoming Christians?
I come into contact with friends at school that have never experienced what it’s like to be a Christian. It’s often difficult to convince them to come to church because they aren’t comfortable with it.
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in what I have to say and potentially coming. So it is important to me to keep talking to them because of the chance that they will change their mind and come with me and check it out!
What most discourages you and your Christian friends?
The thing that probably discourages my friends and me the most is when we see people that we care about make bad choices. It’s hard especially when we know that the people involved are people that know what’s right and do the wrong thing regardless. It’s also discouraging when people don’t want any help from us because we want so desperately for them to experience the walk we enjoy. But we have to remember that God is in control, not us, and that he will look after them and be there waiting for them to come to him when they’re ready.
How can Christian teens be kept from leaving the church?
This is a question that my youth group often wrestles with. Something that I think I will practice next year when I’m on my own at college is accountability, especially with my close Christian friends and peers. It would also be helpful for adults to hold students, ones that they’ve watched grow up or have a personal connection with, accountable for attending church and being faithful.
I think that a big way of stopping teens from leaving the church is by being warm and welcoming when they do come to church and making them feel like they belong in the church family. Reach out to them and maybe invite them to dinner at your house.
Growing up as a minister’s daughter, we’ve always had kids come over, and I know that it helps make people feel welcome, and they’re more likely to stay involved with their church. What most challenges your Christian walk?
The thing that most challenges me in my Christian walk is probably my tendency to get distracted. At school I am involved in many activities and this often results in my forgetting to talk to God or to read my Bible throughout the day. I know this is something that I am constantly struggling with and something that I am always trying to improve. I also struggle with remembering that God loves me despite my struggles and mistakes and lack of communication with him.
However, when I do stop for a moment in my busy days, I remind myself that the God who created the earth and everything in it wants to have a relationship with me, which is awesome. Why do you plan to attend a Christian university?
I want to go to a Christian university because it is very important to me to be surrounded by Christian friends who will not only have a good influence on me, but will also help me in my faith.
Even though there are always selections of these kinds of friends at any school you go to, I believe that I will have the most success in finding them at a Christian university. Also, one of the most important things to me is finding a good Christian man to marry, and I have a strong belief that a Christian campus is a perfect place to find one.
Lastly, where a state school wouldn’t require it, Oklahoma Christian provides education in Bible, which is also very important. What is your favorite Scripture? Why? Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
— Psalm 51:10-12
This verse reminds me to ask God for strength, willingness and desire to pursue and follow him, which is ultimately the most important thing to me.