By Jack Wilkie
In the aftermath of the Parkland, FL school shooting in February of this year, one of the prominent storylines focused on the activism of the high school students to speak up for their causes. Teens in the 15-18 year old range came forth on both sides of the gun control and school safety issues and spoke eloquently about their causes. They organized gatherings and helped spur massive media coverage and nationwide protests and demonstrations. All of that came to a head with the recent “March for Our Lives,” where those students got thousands of people to march with them.
Though there are debates to be had about what level of input and leadership people of that age should be given to make major decisions (for example, I believe the proposal to lower the voting age is a bad idea), and the merit of their argument is a topic for another website to dissect, it’s hard to deny that those young people showed great passion, poise, and talent in going on national television to speak to their causes and organizing the different events that resulted from the tragedy. They have truly changed the game when it comes to youth political activism.
The lesson to be learned here is that young people have a lot to offer. They’re capable of so much more than we often think. Church, are we paying attention? Are we mining the talents and gifts our baptized young people bring to the table, or are we stashing them away and turning them into consumers, hoping they hang on to their Christianity after finishing high school and college? Do we expect them to be an active part of the church, or do we just try to come up with ideas to “keep them coming”? Do we segregate them from the “adult church” and give them a watered down version of church, or do we encourage them to be a part of the whole congregation?
There must be a shift away from the widespread philosophy that the church is there to provide events and programs to keep young people engaged. Instead, we need to be working to utilize their energy and abilities to serve, edify, and evangelize. Here are two ways we must equip young people to be active participants in the church.
Teens should know how to have a personal walk with God.
It’s not right when someone is baptized at 13 but still doesn’t know how to have a daily life of prayer, study, and devotion by the time they “graduate” the youth group. Navigating high school, college, jobs, and all that come with them is difficult. What the youth need are experienced Christians to come alongside them and show them how to build a foundation on Jesus and His Word so they can be well grounded in the truth and a love of God through life’s ups and downs.
Teens should be in the process of being discipled so they can make disciples.
Inexperienced Christians have questions, struggles, and temptations. They might have heard lessons on how we’re all part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:14ff), but they probably aren’t sure where they fit in the church and what abilities they’ve been given to serve. That’s why they need to be discipled. They need people who are following Jesus every day to show them how to follow Jesus every day so they can show others how to follow Jesus every day.
Every church has the problem of consumer Christians, people who attend, sing, listen, drop in some money, and go home. If we’re going to overcome that problem, we need to teach people from their earliest days of being a Christian how to serve others in the church. Young people need to feel the sense of belonging in the church that comes from the love of Christ, and they need to be shown how to turn that into service of others. Again, they have the talent and the energy. Many of them have a great empathy for people and want to serve. It’s up to us to reach out to them and help grow them into thriving, serving branches on the vine who bear fruit for the Lord.
The next time you see some young person put forth on national TV to discuss politics or whatever else, think of the young people in your congregation. If you’ve got children or grandchildren, think of them. Realize that they, just like the young people on the news, have something to offer. Ask yourself how we’re helping those young people draw near to Jesus, and how we can utilize their talents for the church. I suspect the more we all start doing that, the more the church’s dropout rate will decline and we’ll start building a strong generation of Christ-following, God-glorifying servants in the church.