“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
God is not an ageist. He doesn’t choose those he will work through based on their years of experience. Nor does he ask us to have achieved certain milestones in our lives before we can do his work. For him to do his work through us, God requires faith, trust and obedience. And that can come at any age. Like Jeremiah, there are many people who have heard God’s call at a young age.
Why then do we overlook the value of young people in our church communities? Why do we reduce their role to one that must be played on the sidelines? Why do we so often brush aside what they have to say?
If God can use anyone to do his work, who are we to say the young are too young to do it? Churches across the world cannot grow and flourish without the constant stream of younger generations becoming part of our communities. The youth are an important part of growing God’s kingdom. That is a fact. The only question we need to ask is how do we attract today’s youth to the church?
We do this by making the church a place where young people want to be. Today’s youth crave community. If we offer the church as a place where they can find real and meaningful connections; where church is far more than a service on Sundays, but rather a place and a people that walk through life together, then the church will attract young people.
In order to achieve this level of connection with the youth, we need to be authentic. And that means brutal honesty with ourselves. Even as leaders, we cannot always be right. But we can always be honest. In our vulnerability, we encourage others to be authentic. And this can offer a deeper and more meaningful connection within our church community, where Christ’s truth and light can be experienced in even the darkest corners of the lives of our young people.
We need to hold the church up as a place where young people can belong, where they can come just as they are, and where grace can be found in abundance. We need to offer them the truth without making them feel that they first need to be corrected before they are worthy to belong.
This challenges us, the older generation, to step out of our comfort zones, and to not always do things the way they have always been done. Comfort is a killer of passion and we have a responsibility to the youth amongst us to be passionate for Christ and his message. In this, too, the youth can show us the way. It is in the nature of young people to have new ideas and new ways of doing things. Young people bring energy and enthusiasm to our community. And that, in turn, attracts other young people. So, let’s not squash this side of them, for the sake of our comforting rituals. But let us give the youth the space to ignite us anew with a passion for the church.
In all that we do to attract young people to our church community, let us not waver in our message. The basis of all we do is truth – Christ’s truth. And while community, connection, authenticity and passion are all important aspects of attracting young people, it is the truth of God’s word that will keep them – and generations – grounded in the church.
In a world where so much information is being thrown at our young people, let us make sure that our message of truth is clear. We need to clarify what we say and we need to say it in a way that can be understood by our young people. Let Christ’s truth ring loud and clear above all the noise.
This is not simply a message to fall in line with Youth Day. But it is an aspect of our church lives that I feel strongly about. We, as the church, need to be making young people an integral part of our community, every day of every year. Not just Youth Day. And not just this year. If we want to see the church grow, let us take up the crusade to sign young people up as local preaches, to attract them to candidate for the ministry, to fill our churches with them and open up the path for them to hear God’s calling on their lives. After all, “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”