By God’s great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. ~ 1 Peter 1:3
Happy Easter! As we live through this Easter season, youth ministry is on my mind. I’m writing this article the day after our Session received eleven confirmation students into membership by profession of faith and the day before I travel to Princeton Theological Seminary to attend the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry (April 29 to May 2). I’m celebrating the work our eleven students did over the last year to grow in their faith and then to find the words to express their faith to our elders and on Sunday, May 4 to our church. I’m also anticipating a good conference on youth ministry in today’s context that I hope will help us as a church move our new ministry to youth into its next phase.
The focus of the Princeton conference is very appropriate to the work the confirmation class did to profess their faith. This year’s theme is on the power of testimony. From the website (ptsem.edu/Forum2014) of the conference, “Young people often struggle to articulate their faith and subsequently don’t identify strongly as Christian disciples. However, as young people become fluent in the language of faith through vital relationships, they make meaningful connections that enable them to speak boldly of God’s work in their lives and in the world.”
I appreciate and enjoy the process that our confirmation class goes through each year to find the words to express what they believe, but I fear that confirmation is sometimes seen as an isolated event and even worse as a culminating experience of church. Confirmation is an important milestone along a lifelong journey of Christian nurture that reflects our church’s commitment to honor our baptismal promise. At baptism, we made a covenant, a promise, to nurture all the children (young and old) whom God gives us in the Christian faith so that they can articulate their faith and talk about God in their lives. If we stop our ministry with youth at confirmation, is it any wonder that they don’t identify strongly as Christian disciples? If our parents don’t learn the faith and share it with them, if our church members don’t build vital relationships with them, how will they make meaningful connections to God’s work in their lives and in the world? Too often we leave them “to make their own choices,” and I’m pretty sure we all know how that ends. Only 2 out of every 10 confirmation students, on average, stays connected to church beyond confirmation.
In a recent edition of the magazine Presbyterian Outlook, Rick Harrison, president of Presbyterian Camp and Conference Centers, Inc., wrote that he believes it is time to “make youth the number one priority in the church. Nearly 80% of all Christians began their journey with Christ in their teen years.
In comparison, only 2% of Christians come to faith after the age of 30. Can you imagine what a church would look like whose mission statement read, ‘To raise up young leaders in the church’? And, once we have raised them up, empower them by letting them lead. I’m not talking about one or two token youth serving as elders, but give them a majority on session and see what happens!”
I like Harrison’s words because they are bold. They make me wonder many things about our ministry. Are we a part of God’s mission to share the new life we know in Jesus Christ with all ages, or are we only consumers of religion who make faith about us? Are we, the members of our church, as concerned for the next generations of Christians in our ministry, or have we “retired” and decided to “let the parents do it,” so that we can focus more on preserving our own history and memory of the church? If someone were to examine our church closely, would they see a vision “to raise up young leaders in the church,” or a church that acquiesces to all the other demands our culture makes on youths’ and families’ lives? Are we raising up youth who can speak boldly of God’s work in their lives and in the world? These are not questions for me as pastor or the Youth Design Team alone. These are questions for our whole church.
The redevelopment of our youth ministry is still in its infancy, and we need your prayers and active support to grow it. Your financial generosity has made it possible to hire a part-time youth coordinator, and we are currently searching for that person. Many thanks to Alice Chin for filling that role on an interim basis. However, a youth ministry coordinator is not the whole answer to growing our youth ministry. Our youth ministry needs the presence, faith, leadership and relationships of our church members in order to grow and raise up young leaders in our church. The Youth Design Team and Program Team welcome your involvement as we begin now to plan for the next year. I would invite you to pray about your role with our youth (as well as with our children—see Tami’s article). God has given us everything we need to grow our ministry to include youth. What a wonderful testimony it is when we can share with the next generations the faith that gives us life and hope.