A member from my church asked me to write a short article on what I want to do for the youth ministry at Mesa Verde. I sat in front of my laptop, and typed away. I don’t know if this is what he had in mind, but thought I’d share with any of you who happen to come upon the blog. I’d also like to hear your thoughts too.
I have heard that phrase a lot in my lifetime. At one point, that phrase was used describing my friends and I. I do not think I would be far off if many churches today look at their young people and think these kids are “the leaders of tomorrow.”
I, for one, never really liked that phrase. When, exactly, is tomorrow? Is tomorrow when all the members of the church pass to heaven (well, hopefully most of them) and we are the ones remaining? Then there will be another generation waiting for us to die out, so they can take over, when they are old. It just feels like a misleading statement.
I am reminded of a story that my dad told me once. There was a smoker who was desperately recommended by his doctor to quit. His wife and his children nagged him to quit for a long time. His deteriorating health and his doctor’s advice were finally enough for him to quit smoking. So he made a sign for himself and placed it on top the main doorway of his house. The sign read: “Tomorrow I will quit smoking.” He woke up next morning, ready to start a new life. As he was heading out to work, he saw his sign, “tomorrow I will quit smoking.” He looked at it, and said, “Okay, tomorrow I’ll quit. Just one cigarette today. I’ll quit tomorrow.” Every time he saw that sign, he was reminded that tomorrow will be the day that he will quit smoking, so for the present, he would sneak a couple of smokes here and there. The statement, “leaders of tomorrow” reminds me of that story, because tomorrow may never come for the young people of the church. Maybe the adults think that the kids are too young. Or too inexperienced. Or may be they believe that if the young people led the church, church no longer would be “church.” Instead, it will be filled with drum sets, electric guitars, people with piercings and tattoos, colorful hairstyles, rather unique choice of clothing, and so forth. Who knows?
The God-awful truth is, the “leaders of tomorrow” never stick around for tomorrow. It is a sad truth that many (if not most) of our churches see a huge drop off of members between the age of 18 -30 (give or take a few years). A few of my friends have dubbed this the “Silent Exodus” because more and more young adults leave the church. There are many hypotheses for this. May be one of them is that they were just tired of waiting for tomorrow to come.
May I humbly suggest, that if you have not already, that we change “leaders of tomorrow” to “leaders of today.” Have we forgotten that in the Bible, God used young people to do God’s will? Samuel was a young boy when he heard the voice of God. And even at that young age, God challenged Samuel to do something that was far beyond his years. There is a song that I sang as a kid that started off with “Only a boy named David.” David was only a boy when he was anointed as the next king of Israel. Only a boy named David, defeated Goliath, when none of the adults wanted to face the giant. Josiah became king at the age of 8. When he was 16, he earnestly sought the God of his fathers. At the age of 27, he led his entire country to reformation and turned the heart of Israel towards God. And how can we forget Mary? Around the age of 13, she was given, arguably, the greatest and the most challenging task by God: to bear God into this world. I like to joke that God uses young people because the older ones are just too stubborn and too set in their ways to do things God’s way. I like to believe that there is a little bit of truth in that joke.
This is what I believe whole-heartedly: that God uses the young people and that our youth are the leaders of today. And that is what I want to instill in the young people of the church that I have been appointed to, Mesa Verde United Methodist Church (with the help and grace of God, of course). Youth ministry is not just for activities and games and having fun. I believe we are doing a disservice to our youth when we treat youth ministry as babysitting programs or have youth ministry so that the kids “will have something to do” or, worse, to have programs to keep the kids out of the adults’ way. Besides, all the churches I have worked for have paid me way too much to just be a babysitter.
This letter is not an announcement telling you to come to Mesa Verde (though if you are looking for a place of worship, consider us.) It is more of an urge to give the young people a chance to step up and claim and apply their faith. There is a hunger in our youth that may be missing from the older generation. The youth have many things to say regarding faith, God and love, it is just that many times, they go unheard or worse, ignored.
When was the last time that your church has listened to the hearts of the youth? When was the last time you let the youth voice their concern or ideas about the direction of the church? When was the last time that you gave youth actual leadership jobs, something that a well-respected adult will do?
I am a failure. I am a sinner. I am not perfect. You should know that right away. (And if you like, you can read more about me at https://pressingtoward.wordpress.com. If you do swing by, please read the disclaimer that’s on the top left hand corner.) But, as flawed as I am, I am dedicated to live my life for God and to serve God and God’s people. I am dedicated in working with our young people to help them understand that God goes beyond the Sunday school classrooms. To help them see that God is applicable and relevant to the world we live in today. To help them realize that Christianity goes beyond just attending church on Sundays. To equip them, to train them, to have them be the change they want to see in the world, to be a Christian not by our words, but by living and loving so loud that people cannot ignore what God is doing through the young people. And for me to be learning to do these things along with them. As much as I hold them accountable, I need to be held accountable.
We, at Mesa Verde, want our youth to be leaders NOW. We are also exploring many options to tackle the Silent Exodus that is tragically happening in churches across our nation. The students leave the church during their college years and they never come back, or come back when they have kids of their own. We are looking to start a ministry for these people so that they may have a place of worship, a place of fellowship and a place for explore their faith and what it means in the world today, to break their perception of the “Sunday School God” that was nothing more than a good story to listen to on Sundays.
I urge your church to do the same. The youth of any church are too valuable to let them just slip through cracks. And if you are not part of a church, we need all the help that we can get. And we will welcome you with open hearts, open arms and open doors. I read that one person is enough to start a revival, a revolution. Imagine then, what two, three, thirty, a hundred can do in the name of God. But, let’s stop imagining, let’s stop thinking, let’s stop planning, but let’s start doing. We can do anything through God, who is our source of unimaginable strength, an unending hope and an unfailing love.