Youth Are Not the Future of the Church

By May 3, 2017Youth Ministries

Kat BairI have a good friend who works as a youth pastor in the San Antonio area, and she has a very specific pet peeve when it comes to youth ministry. If there is any one thing this girl could end permanently, it would be the tendency of adults to refer to youth as “the future of the church.”

Seems pretty innocuous, right? Well, if she was writing this blog, her fingers would race across keys to explain the fundamental flaw in that statement: youth are not the future of the church; they are its present. They will not be strong Christians one day; they are now. They are not being trained up to be members of our community; they are members of our community. In our church, confirmation and full membership in the church comes at the end of sixth grade, meaning that all of our confirmed youth are members of the church. And while having programming relevant to their stage of life is important (as it is for singles, young families, empty nesters, etc.), that doesn’t make them less full members of the worshipping community.

It is this understanding that shapes the fourth approach in the youth staff’s series on approaches to youth ministry: Community of Faith.

The Community of Faith approach’s most well-known advocate is youth ministry scholar, and mentor to our own Rev. Casey Orr, Kenda Dean. She argues in her book “God-Bearing Life” that the common practice of siloing youth ministry, in our case, to its own building, undermines the apprenticing, enculturating effect that embedding youth into the larger worshipping community can have. She argues that it is the observation and practice of the rituals and rhythms of the church that build lifelong faith. Just this week, Andrew and I were in a meeting with Mark, Linda, and Tim to brainstorm and plan for ways for children and youth to be engaged in worship, and Andrew and I thought through the lens of this approach. The best way to engage youth in worship is not to treat them as an alien species to be studied and lured in, but as members of our community, as fully capable of participation and leading as adults.

Teenagers, for the most part, will basically live up to your expectations of them. So Andrew and I, when it comes to this approach to youth ministry, are working at raising the expectations. We’ve had students read scripture, serve Communion, and perform liturgical dance in the service; we’ve had them serve on Church Council and present to the Board of Trustees. And we aren’t even close to being done. We seek to help teenagers learn kinetically about Christian discipleship — to learn what it means to be an active participant in the church by being one — not one day, but now.

We encourage you to voice your support for the teenagers you see serving in worship, letting them know that you notice and appreciate them, and to make an effort to end the invisibility of youth outside of youth programming by thinking about how our youngest church members could be a part of our FUMCFW community. If you aren’t sure where to start, email Andrew (amochrie@myfumc.org) and me (kbair@myfumc.org), and we’d love to brainstorm with you!

Next week, Andrew will wrap up our series with a post on the liberation approach to youth ministry. Don’t miss it!

Kat

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