Too Young to Lead?
I see my church as a big family. I love talking to everyone, getting people involved with each other or in different church activities, and just knowing that I have people who truly care about me. Like most families, we have our trials and tribulations but we always get through it.
When I was 15 years old, I started volunteering at the Sunday school classes. My first assignment was being the teacher’s helper at the Godly play for preschoolers.
A few years later, I joined the group of young adults, ages 17 to 21, who would take the kids to the cafeteria and keep them there for a while during the worship service. We would give them a little snack, often donuts from the morning with a little juice. Sometimes we would cut the donuts in half or into fourths because we would have so many kids. But after the snack we would play games, sing songs, and give them a short lesson. We had lots of fun with the children, teaching them and singing with them, doings skits for Christmas, and singing carols in the service for the parents.
While most of the time it was amazing with the kids, there were some parents who thought that the young adults weren’t ready to handle the responsibility. I had just turned 18 and was asked to teach a class along with my friend, another 18-year-old girl. Arrangements had been made to have a parent present during the class. I remember one parent was especially mad that church leaders were letting two 18-year-old girls teach a class. We were surprised and hurt at the fact that she felt that way. It got to the point I wasn’t comfortable teaching the kids anymore, and the priest at the time decided it would be better if the young adults stopped taking the kids out during the service for classes to avoid more issues.
I wish I could say that it got better, that we sat down and talked about it like mature people, but we didn’t. During this time our priest left to take care of some family responsibilities in his home country; the congregation was like lost sheep trying to find someone to put in charge. Some people were leaving the church because we didn’t have a regular priest and people didn’t really know what to do without clergy leadership.
It was a very tough moment in my life because instead of encouraging me to do better, I felt like some adults were trying to stop me from helping the church. The feelings of anger, disbelief, and the thought of being unsupported stayed with me in the back of my mind. I decided not to let those feelings overcome my self-esteem. I kept teaching the kids. In other words, I chose to act out of kindness.
During this time my parish was trying to find a priest to serve us. When our current priest came I remember the church was divided, and people wouldn’t really talk to one another. There were different reasons for this; I never really asked why but you could see it. What the new priest kept trying to instill in us was that we were a family, all of us, one body in Christ. That we should love our neighbors and that the only way to get up from where we were was to work as a team. Slowly people started coming together and apologizing to one another. It didn’t happen overnight. It took time and a lot of prayer and meditation.
Fast forward to 2016
Now I’m teaching the Sunday children’s service. The thing that I learned from this earlier event is that sometimes it’s best to just let things work out by themselves. If you know you are doing something good, don’t give up. There may always be someone who will look down on you because of your age, your ethnicity, because you are female, or because of your background. You’ll be surprised how many people want to see you fail. It’s all a normal part of life.
Everyone has a battle to fight and sometimes they take out their frustrations on people they don’t mean to. In the end, when you hold a grudge against someone, it affects you more than it does them, so keep killing them with kindness and show them what unconditional love looks like.
Looking back, I wish that at the time a church leader would have stepped up and tried to help the youth fight for the right to keep teaching. I always hear that "the youth is the future of the church" but how can we expect them to become leaders if you don't give them opportunity to grow and to showcase their abilities. I understand that at the time the church was struggling and it was difficult for that to happen, but it would have made me feel more encouraged.
In this situation it worked out for me to be quiet and keep at it, but sometimes you have to speak up and try to talk to the person who has a problem with you. Especially for younger people it may seem like it’s impossible to achieve something. Remember 1 Timothy 4:12 “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness, and purity’.”
In the story Liz shares, it appears not every parent was happy with older teenagers leading a Sunday school class. Complicating the situation was a void in leadership due to the priest’s need to give up his position in order to take care of family matters in his home country.
- How are you preparing young – or new - leaders in your congregation?
- How do you handle disagreements in your congregation related to who is qualified to lead?
- Are their different qualifications for different positions? (Ex. Sunday School, committee member or chair, vestry member, warden, etc.?)
- What are these qualifications based on? Are they broad enough to encourage the involvement of newer or younger members? If not, why not?
Liz Luna, 23, attends St. Peter’s/San Pedro Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Texas. She leads the Children’s Chapel Ministries and is a Youth Minister. She volunteers every first and third Saturday of the month at the church’s food pantry. Outside of church, she works full time and spends her free time with family and friends.
- Peacemaker Ministries (en Espanol)
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