Happy Monday everyone,
Last week’s post was amazing, and I am so thankful for the time and input from our writers. Please check back each week as we continue to post new thoughts on different topics. Here is a look at some upcoming month’s topics.
February – Bible Study Month
March – Worship Month
April – Perspective’s Month (From people like Parents, Youth, Children’s Ministers, etc.)
May – Camp Month
It is shaping up to be a great year. Please leave a comment so we can hear your thoughts too! Here is this week’s post about……
What is the role of youth in the Church?
Sara Clarke serves as Minister with Youth at Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. She graduated from Georgetown College and Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. In her personal life, Sara is excited to be engaged to marry Neal this summer.
I hear it so often, “youth are the future of the/our church.” Most believe this to be a statement of hope and encouragement concerning young people. But let’s be honest. This phrase is packed with hidden meaning and unintended consequences.
What We Say: The present doesn’t matter. First, remember that adolescents are not able to fully envision themselves as an adult. It seems way too far away for them, for perception of time is relative to age. If you are only 10 years old, 10 years is a lifetime! Second, the future is a vague concept that can imply any length of time. When we say that youth are the future, we fail to provide any reference as to when this will become a present reality. They are left wondering what their present purpose in the church is and may walk away believing that they will be able to suddenly step into Christian maturity when the “future” finally arrives.
What We Need to Say: The present matters! Youth do not need to wait to be the church, to study Scripture, to worship, to pray, to engage in missions, or even to assume a leadership role. Young people have unique perspectives and talents to offer. They are often equipped with passion and optimism that the church desperately needs. We should encourage youth to understand that who they are and what they do right now is important.
What We Say: I’m scared that Christianity and/or our congregation is going to die. Practically, I get it. To look around and see a gathering of people who will not be around in 50 years is scary, especially for our church leadership. We wonder who is going to take the place of our faithful deacons, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, etc. So, often when we refer to youth as “the future,” it has more to do with anxiety. Youth become saviors of the church, beacons of promise that ensure survival.
What We Need to Say: I’m excited to see what our youth are being called to do. Who knows what the future of the church will look like? What if a new vision is being stirred up in the hearts of our youth? Will our fear of losing what we know cause us to step in their path? Youth have God-given dreams. They need our encouragement and excitement at the possibilities that lie with them, rather than our fear of the unknown. Let God take care of the rest.
What We Say: Youth make us look successful. When we use our young church members as representatives of our success, they are only around for our personal gain, to make us feel good about ourselves.
What We Need to Say: You are important to our church. Forget what looks successful. Don’t worry about the numbers of youth or kids or young adults or senior adults coming to church and start paying attention to individuals. Young or old, we are all important in the body of Christ. We all have a purpose, no matter our age. Youth, just like adults, are being equipped for both present and future ministry. So look around and see your congregation for what it is right now and invite youth to be the church with you.
Carol Harston has served as Minister to Youth at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. Born and raised at Highland, Carol has found the joy of caring for youth in the same community that shaped her as a young person. Outside of youth ministry, Carol has her hands full as a mom to James (3 years old) and Collier (9 months old) and wife to Drew (orthopedic surgery resident and faithful youth volunteer).
Every August, they stand next to me in front of the congregation as new members of the youth group. Promotion Sunday marks the time when they move from Children’s Ministry to Youth Ministry. I hand new Bibles to the sixth graders as they stare at their feet. Without fail, the photo taken that morning is the most awkward one of the year as they stand on the precipice of adolescence.
Every May, another group stands next to me in front of the congregation. Youth-Led Worship in May marks the time when they move from Youth Ministry into the Young Adult Ministry. Without fail, the photo taken that morning is the most bittersweet one of the year. The eighteen year olds exude confidence, fear, joy, and sadness as they prepare to leave the comforts of youth group.
As I hug each senior, I can’t help but see the years flash before. During the seven years between those moments, youth walk the road from childhood to adulthood. The road leads them to experience the first moments of identity-shaking heartbreak, fear-inducing isolation, and life-questioning discernment. Andrew Root defines youth based not on age but on the experience of learning life for the first time. “It is better to see adolescence as a time where what is true throughout the life span is newly reflected upon,” he writes in Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry.
As adults, we have become well-worn as we have faced the demons of desire, disappointment, and despair for many years. We practice coping strategies and we settle into patterns. But youth meet these demons truly for the first time during their years in the youth group. It disorients them and sends them reeling as they figure out how to live and move in this life.
They pack into the pews in the back row and they write notes to each other during worship because relationships are their place of comfort. They walk awkwardly around our hallways and crowd the busiest intersections because they are still finding “home” in their own bodies. They raise tough questions in Bible study because they are realizing that “loving your neighbor” is harder than they experienced as children.
The role of the youth is to show up and name the pain felt when betrayed by a friend at school.
The role of the youth is to practice vulnerability by sharing the disorientation felt when abandoned by a parent at home.
The role of the youth is to put us on the spot by asking the question, “why?”, when dealing with the death of a loved one.
The Church needs young people. The Church needs youth to model for adults what it means to be vulnerable, raw, and tender. The Church needs reminders that we are called by Christ to be a community of faith that is relevant, authentic, and courageously honest.
May God empower all youth to bring the real joys and struggles of their life to trusted communities of faith so that the Church can experience LOVE in our moments of weakness.
Danny Steis serves as Minister of Students at Yates Baptist Church in Durham, NC. He enjoys music, table tennis, fishing, cooking, and spending time with his wife Johanna and his two kids, Marley and Ruby. He loves his dog, Rufus, but not his other dog, Ethel. Danny has an MDiv from Truett Theological Seminary.
A phrase that I really try hard not to say to the students in my youth group is “when I was your age…” But the older I get and the more I observe youth culture I find it more and more difficult to avoid using this expression. I don’t use it from a place of judgment to complain about my “difficult” childhood, but almost out of shock at the things teenagers today have to deal with. Of course the childhood me didn’t have and iPhone, Twitter, or even the Internet! I also didn’t have 12 hour work days as a middle-schooler either.
I am constantly shocked (and sometimes disappointed) about how busy many of my students are. Selfishly, I hate how much they miss the events I work so hard to plan and execute, but on a deeper level I am saddened about the unavoidable idolization of busyness our culture is instilling in them. Busyness equals success and importance and biblical concepts of Sabbath, stillness, and retreat are difficult if not impossible to convey. How can we practice any form of contemplative prayer or reflection when a million responsibilities and commitments are running through our heads?
Youth are a glimpse into the future of the church. This is not to say that they are the “future of the church” (i.e. they are not the church yet), but to say they are encountering emerging issues that will come to define the culture in which the church will exist when they are adults. Youth in the church play the important role of being a barometer for future issues. If youth cannot or will not make time for church programs what will the church look like in 10 years? As youth ministers we go out of our way to make sure that our ministry is not contained to the walls of our church. We meet students on their “turf” – at games, recitals, for coffee, etc… and have very meaningful interactions there. For many of our overcommitted students this may be the only time we get with them. As adults will they be too busy (or think they’re too busy) to attend times of corporate worship and require senior pastors that only interact with them in this one-on-one way? Will they be forced to mega-churches that offer a wider variety of event times and places to fit their full schedules than more intimate and smaller congregations? Will they abandon church all together and adopt the ever popular “spiritual but not religious” view; not because they really want to but because they’re too busy to do otherwise? The way that youth respond to their culture now and the way their ministers respond to them are predictors of the church’s future.