I am a follower of Jesus for many reasons. One of them is that I was raised in a congregation that cared deeply about young people. The minister, the elders and the youth leaders in my church believed that young people are not the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today.
I was reminded of this when I attended Canada Youth 2012. The energy and enthusiasm of over 500 young people and youth leaders gathered for worship, study, conversation and a lot of fun was inspiring. It was a great moment for the Presbyterian Church in Canada and I was delighted to be there. It renewed my faith that God is not finished with us yet.
Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary says that youth ministry is about ministry before it’s about youth. I think she’s right. For too long, and for too many, youth ministry has been about entertaining young people with the hope that they’ll stay in the church. But there’s a new generation of youth leaders who understand that ministry with youth means involving them in God’s work in the world. It means seeing young people as loved by God, called by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s mission. Young people are not the objects of ministry—they have a ministry.
Let me put it this way. The Presbyterian Church does not have a ministry to youth. But God does. The church of God does not have a mission with young people. But the God of mission has a church in which young people have a vital place. God cares deeply about young people and so should we. Our ministry with youth is nothing more and nothing less than a participation with them in what the triune God is doing, across cultures, across social and economic groups and across generations. It involves everyone, from the front-line youth leader to the retired grandparents who spend time with their grandchildren.
Let me return to my own story. At the opening of the General Assembly I spoke about the debt of gratitude I owe to the Presbyterian Church. I am not a cradle Presbyterian but I was embraced as a child and a young person by this denomination. Through the ministry of a local congregation and a church camp, as well as presbytery, synod, ecumenical and parachurch youth programs, my identity as a follower of Jesus was formed and my call to ministry was nurtured.
So here’s the challenge. Let’s make ministry among youth and young adults and families one of our priorities going forward. Let’s make it inter-cultural and inter-generational. Let’s have every congregation set up a Facebook page for young people. Let’s give our young people the freedom to do ministry in their own way. And let’s have every congregation send at least one more young person to the next Canada Youth than they did in 2012. (Why can’t we have 1,000 young people and leaders there?)
But most of all, let’s keep showing young people that God loves them and that Jesus invites them on this journey with us. Who knows, perhaps they’ll end up leading us.