Didn’t you know? You’re on the youth team
Being a young person is hard. I’m sure you still remember it.
Puberty. Parties. Peer pressure. All children face challenges as they grow into adults. But if you found growing up difficult, it certainly hasn’t got any easier for teens these days.
I just think of the changes since I was in school ten years ago. Oh, how private MSN Messenger on a dodgy 5mb broadband connection looks now, compared with the exposure of a year-group-wide WhatsApp on 4G.
And that’s not to mention the added pressure that comes with being a Christian teenager.
If you want to understand the cost of following Jesus in today’s culture, just speak to a teenager in your church trying to live for God in their secondary school - whether it’s about the near total absence of God in their curriculum or the record level of pressure to fit in.
Young people are on the cultural frontline.
But, in a world of ever-increasing pressure on young people, how are we to support those God has placed in our churches?
With unprecedented pressure, it would be tempting to look for unprecedented answers. But as I’ve spent time thinking about this question in the life of the church I go to, I’ve become convinced that the answer is the same as it’s always been.
And that answer involves you.
Churches can often view their children and youth ministries as parental outsourcing. ‘Just drop them off at 7pm each Friday,’ we think. ‘We’ll cover the spiritual stuff in your child’s life for you.’
But responsibility for raising children in the faith doesn’t first fall to the church. It falls to parents.
Joseph and Mary understood this:
‘Then [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with [his parents] and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.’ Luke 2:51-52
Parents are responsible for nurturing the whole of their child as they grow up. And this includes nourishing their child’s heart just as much as their hunger.
‘Phew. I’m not a parent. I’m off the hook.’
Not so fast.
If, like me, you’re not a parent, this doesn’t mean you can sit back.
Church is family. And so, although we might not be a child’s primary care-giver, we’re still an important part of their lives - their parents are our brothers and sisters.
The purpose of a church is to support the church family in their work of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). And if, for some of our church family, a big part of that work includes raising children, this work includes us too.
The goal of any good church’s children and youth ministry is to support parents in their demanding and difficult work. And, as Christians, we’re called to play a part in the church’s work.
It’s a family project.
Playing your part
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should sign up to serve in your church’s children’s or youth groups. But it might.
However, whatever other responsibilities you may have in your church, we’re all called to be on the youth team.
No longer can we say to ourselves: ‘Someone else should go over and speak to the group of teenagers after a service.’ That person is us.
Nor can we think of young children as a distraction to a good catch up with their parents. If a child can speak, we can involve them in the conversation too.
And if you can spare an hour a week and want to be involved in setting the course of someone’s entire life, why not consider speaking to your pastor about meeting with a young person to read the Bible one to one? It may be the most valuable time you spend all week.
But even if you don’t have time for another meeting each week, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy this, and use it each day to pray for the young people in your church.
I shudder to think of the possible cost if we don’t.
In our church a lot of parents choose to have their child dedicated.
Some other churches choose to baptise their children. Whatever your church does, it probably asks you to make a statement with the rest of the congregation to commit to praying and supporting parents as their children grow up.
Over the last year I have become convicted that I shouldn’t just say it. I need to do it.