Unadulterated Enthusiasm


By Amanda Leavitt

Every year I lead our music and skits for Vacation Bible School. But, this year my view from the front during VBS changed my view of almost everything around me for the foreseeable future. Before VBS this year I had never considered the actual meaning of the word “unadulterated.” Have you? VBS this year got me thinking that the fact that this word exists is a symptom of one of the worst parts of growing up. When something is un-adult-erated it’s in its purest, undiluted, and essential form. There’s “unadulterated enthusiasm” and “unadulterated beauty” and “unadulterated” foods, and my very favorite, “absolute unadulterated nonsense.” But, the word “unadulterated” points to something I think is unfortunate about growing up, adults are so restricted that this word popped into our language to describe wonderful/pure/free things as the opposite of adultness.  

I have the very best view of VBS if you ask me. I am up on the stage so I can see all the kids’ faces during the music and the skits and offering time.

What I see, especially in the first few rows where we have preschool and kindergarten, is what can only be called “unadulterated enthusiasm”, and all through the day they have unadulterated fun. The first few days the older kids are too concerned with being cool to let loose; but by the end of VBS they too are usually engrossed in fun and become unadulteratedly enthusiastic. But sadly, the older kids have been adulterated.

And so, you see what I mean, that word “unaldulterated” is evidence of the worst part of growing up. We lose the joy of flinging our bodies all over the place dancing, the joy of throwing our bodies into a freezing cold sprinkler, the joy of covering ourselves in mud, and mostly, the joy of being ourselves. What is amazing about the smallest kids at VBS is that they are not “dancing like no one is watching”… they are dancing like everyone is watching because they don’t even know what looking ridiculous is yet and they want everyone to see their amazing moves. 

After the first day of VBS I realized there is something I am missing in my life. Even as a youth minister I have been adulterated. It’s impractical to get muddy, it’s distracting to dance with all my heart, it’s cold to be wet, and at the end of the day, what will people think of me if I live an unadulterated life? I don’t want to look ridiculous. It’s clear I have been adulterated. Even when doing these things that are my job it requires some mental preparation to unadulterate myself. 

At some point as kids we all start striving to be adults and then once we are, we try to conform kids into adultness. But this word “unadulterated” points to big things we lose when we get “adulterated.” It’s not just that we mature or even that we become impure because we experience the realities of sin in adulthood, we also lose wonder and joy and inhibition. We become practical and subdued and self-conscious and clean (not pure though). Sometimes in youth ministry we are compelled to keep things safe* and help students become well behaved Christians and, in that process, if we are not careful, we lose kids that seem somewhat nonsensical, ridiculous, and unfocused. I don’t mean they stop coming to our churches, I mean we “develop” (adulterate) them into sensible, reasonable, and focused individuals. We lose them. And I just wonder, what absolute unadulterated ministry the nonsensical, ridiculous, and unfocused students could think up and the kinds of people they might reach with the love of Christ that my adulterated moderateness just could not even conceive or invent?  

The best youth pastor I ever met taught this golden nugget of wisdom: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Jesus, Matthew 18:3) There is a lot in this instruction that points to the pitfalls and potential for our frame of mind as adults. One thing is clear though as I watch the kids at VBS, I personally have been adulterated. All I could feel every morning at VBS was this: “Oh my goodness, I wish I was 5!”  I am longing to be unadulterated. I want to be so comfortable in the skin God gave me that I do my life with God like everyone is watching, and that I won’t stop just because they might see me. I want to be unmoved by appearing foolish for doing what God calls me to. I want to play in the mud, throw myself in cold water, and dance with all my might. I want to leave the problems of yesterday in their place and walk forward forgiven, free, and unafraid; then forgiving and freeing everywhere I go. 

If Jesus said it, it’s what we should be doing. So then, I have some questions for you to think through to help you get there: Where are you adulterated? Where has your wonder and joy been removed by your concern for what someone else might think? Where have your wonder and joy been tainted by resentment and unforgiveness? Where have you become inhibited because you are more concerned with looking clean and together than actually having a pure heart at ease? In what ways are you tempted to adulterate the students in your ministry? How might you change the way you relate to and teach the students under your care if building unadulterated adults became one of your ministry values?
What would it take for you to be an unadulterated believer? It’s worth considering. It’s a gift Jesus has for you.  

 *Safety is good. Find creative and smart ways to keep students safe. The ability to assess risk and apply boundaries is a good function of growing up.