The church I currently serve just had their Youth Sunday. Youth Sunday is a time when the youth of the church (usually the middle school and high schoolers) “take over” the church service and lead the community in worship. Growing up this was always a great experience. Whether it was reading the scripture, serving communion or reading a homily, it was a change of pace from the ordinary worship experience week in and week out. As a youth group we would pick the scripture, the theme and made decision on how the message would be structured. We had a say in how the worship would look, we chose the songs and liturgy that spoke to us; for one Sunday, our understanding of who God was, how God had touched our lives and what it meant to be a follower of Christ was made evident in the community around us.
After some discussion the youth settled on the theme of “Molded,” (based on Isaiah 64) specifically speaking to how the church and God has shaped and molded them into the person they are today. This was just what the community needed to hear. In church as well as in life we can fall into routines and ruts which cause us to miss the movement of God around us. We can be so focused on the next thing that we fail to see what the Divine is doing right under our noses. It takes an outside perspective, a new hearing, a reorientation of our mind and spirits to realign ourselves to God. This particular Youth Sunday did just that for the church.
I have never had a community react to a Youth Sunday the way the church I serve did a few Sundays ago. There was an energy, the people were alive. The church got to hear how their tithe, their donations, their commitments, their countless hours in vans transporting sugar happy, rambunctious children, their service to the gospel was being entrusted to the next generation. They heard stories of how summer camps, mission trips, hugs and peppermint candies were more than nice trips and simple gestures, they were implements of the gospel.
Youth today need to be an active part of the community in which they reside. While there have been dozens of articles and books written on this subject, I got to witness first hand the impact that a loving church community had on a group of youth. There was something about that service that spoke to me. I was proud of what the youth accomplished, I was humbled by their depth of spirituality and I was honored to their minister. Hearing how they have felt the love of God in the church inspired many, it lifted their spirits, it reconnected them with God. Their words and explanation of the gospel reaffirmed my call to serve the church and the gospel of Christ.
The church does not need Youth Sunday for the sake of Youth Sunday. The church needs Youth Sunday to be reminded that the story of God is being passed to the next generation. When a baby is dedicated to God, the congregation generally is asked if they will care for the child and watch over her/him. The charge given to the community is one of great importance. They are to ensure that the children now in trusted to their care will be taught the faith that they hold so dear. This charge is not one that the congregation waits to enact when the child is in middle or high school. This task, this charge, this commitment starts immediately. The story of God and God’s movement in the world is not confined to the four walls of a stained glass building. It is much bigger than that and the church needs to be reminded of that.
A friend once told met that he disliked the phrase “the children are the future of the church.” While that might be true on some levels, he wanted it to be rephrased as “youth are the right now.” Middle and High School students are growing up in a world that is completely different than any other generation. If you have a curiosity you turn to Google not a book in the library. Wikipedia has opened the eyes of millions to unknown facts, places and people. Humanity has access to more information than any other time in human history. In the midst of all this, it comforting to know that the story of God, the story of the salvation of Christ and the movement of Spirit has not been lost. This is something that can not be manufactured, summarized in article or found in a smartphone app. This type of connection is found with faithful churches entrust the story of God to faithful youth. Their view of the world and how God moves through it might be different than yours but it shows how God is moving, working and molding their lives.
Do not give up on the next generation, do not lose faith; they are just getting started.