There is a common phrase used in our modern church that must be discontinued immediately. It is a phrase used with good intention; however, this phrase could not be any more detrimental to the church as a whole. This phrase is causing us to lose members, and this phrase is stifling growth. You would think that with all of these negative consequences, the phrase would be obsolete; however, far too many people are blind to the damage caused by this seemingly harmless mindset. If I have heard this phrase once, I have heard it a hundred times. “The youth are the church’s future.”
The fact is, the youth are the church now. While I will concede that the youth are in fact the future of the church, we must never concede that the youth are the church’s future because that only embodies the mindset of far too many members in our assembly today. In the church today it almost seems as if there is a divide between the adult baptized believers and the teenage baptized believers. Generally speaking there are two services the entire year when young men are given the opportunity to lead: Lads to Leaders Sunday(assuming your congregation does Lads to Leaders) and then on Senior night the seniors speak. Additionally, the youth are often content to sit back and allow the older members to serve. This should not and cannot be the case.
If this divide in our assembly is ever going to be bridged, action must be taken.
1. The congregation must take responsibility by giving young people the opportunity to serve.
If young people are the church now, they must be treated like it. I am more than convinced that a young person leaving for college is much more likely to stay in the church if they feel needed. What better way to make them feel needed than to give them opportunities to serve their Lord?
An obvious opportunity for the young men is just serving in the worship assembly. Why only have 2 Sunday nights a year for young men to lead the service? The more experience one gets at an early age, the more likely they will act on that experience. In fact, I have often asked older ministers about their very first lesson. Generally these were preached at very early ages because the size of the congregation required everyone to lead. Sure, the size of congregations now might allow some members to fly under the radar, but that couldn’t be more dangerous to the Lord’s church. We are seeing that today by the fact that so few young people are going into ministry. They needed those opportunities to lead at a young age. Another great opportunity I had was that a former youth minister put on a leadership class when I was in junior high. Each week the teen guys were expected to deliver a short 2-3 minute lesson, and we did various exercises in public reading of scripture, prayer, announcements, encouraging others, etc. I didn’t always enjoy the class, but the class taught me immensely and encouraged me when I saw my brothers in Christ get up and lead. While the guys had a men’s leadership class, the girls also had a ladies leadership class where they took part in writing letters to sick, preparing devotionals for ladies class, and so many other opportunities that helped them to grow and long to serve.
The fact that I was given the opportunity to serve at a young age, is partly why I am who I am today. All of our young people must be given those same opportunities. Paul was well aware of this need which is why he urges Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:13 to give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. If the youth are the church now, they must be allowed to grow through specific opportunities to serve.
2. The congregation must ENCOURAGE the youth to serve.
Throughout my life I have been blessed beyond belief by mentors and encouragers, and I am here to tell you today that my decision to go into ministry was made easy by these people. Sure I was given the opportunity to speak and grow in my ability and knowledge, but after I spoke I was encouraged beyond belief to continue in what I was doing. Throughout my time at Woodson Chapel I have been encouraged by:
-My eldership. Men who know me by name. Men who ask me when I am going to lead singing next. Men who told me often after I spoke that I should become a preacher.
-My ministers. Men who brought me into their office one on one to encourage me. Men who taught me doctrine and not just what I wanted to hear.
-My congregation. Members who take time from their day to write me encouraging notes. Members who tell me to never stop serving and leading.
You want to know how to keep more young people from leaving the church? Encourage them and mentor them like I have been encouraged and mentored! Every young man and women at your congregation has a soul and has a purpose given by God. Paul also knew this which is why he encourages Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:12, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
3. The youth must act like they are the Church NOW.
When it comes down to it, it is the youth’s job to be the church of today. The congregation can give them opportunities to serve, and the congregation can encourage them in these opportunities, but it is the youth’s decision as to whether they will be the church of today. It is far too easy in a large congregation for the youth and even many adults to sit back and let others serve in the worship service, in writing cards to members, in visiting sick, in preparing meals for those in need, and even in attending worship service. However, when each Chistian was baptized, they made a confession that Jesus is the son of God. That confession was an oath that they made for the church to hold them accountable. It was an oath that they would be the church of today. Age does not change the significance of that oath. With this being said, I challenge the youth to break the mindset that they are merely the church of the future, just as Paul challenged Timothy to do the same.
The youth are the church now. I pray that both the congregation and the youth will lose the mindset immediately that the youth are the church of the future. Failure to do so would be a disservice to our Lord.