November 15, 2013

Young People: Not Merely the Church’s Future

"The youth are the future of our church!" I have heard these words preached, whispered, shouted both desperately and joyfully, and cried throughout my time in the Episcopal Church. While I cannot doubt the passion behind this statement, it always leaves me wanting. Undoubtedly, the youth are our future, but they are also our "now." While it is good that adults are advocating for our young people as the future, we also need them today. Youth are among our current and most valued congregants, although they are often viewed sitting idly in our pews and are ghosts among the many corners of ministry.

Most church community revolves around adults. We participate in programs such as ECW, vestry, office volunteers, Sunday school teachers, men's groups, prayer teams, and numerous other ministries. But a youth community that is provided opportunities to openly champion their faith is every bit as important. Our youth are a breath of life. They offer joy and wonder and excitement in action. Watching the seeds of Christ grow within our young people is a living testament awarded to the church family. The church should not be measured in quantity of youth, but in quality of spirit. Opening our doors and welcoming teens shares with them an intimacy they cannot find within the secular world. We are the ones who teach our youth they are loved, cherished, and safe.

Every day, social media displays the various struggles and pressures our young people face. These issues will not fade, but increase as society continues to become isolated and isolating. We cannot remove these obstacles, but we can create an alternative by providing a ministry that combines their trials and sufferings and counters them with a faith journey that guides and strengthens each young person. Opportunities such as weekly gatherings, lock-ins, outreach, and Bible studies help our youth know they have a place and are valued.

Too often, our youth forget how precious they are, as their innate goodness is subverted by a culture that says they forever must be "better"---better looking, better athletes, better students, better friends, even better Christians. I have watched youth grapple in confusion with these challenges, observing that the only true peace found is within a Christ-filled community. They become excited about being involved with their church and the experiences they encounter are life changing.

The purpose of a youth community is not to grow programs, but to grow relationships. Fostering relationships with Christ is our calling and without a faith-driven life, our youth will scatter to find meaning outside the church.

Often when teaching youth confirmation classes, I use My Faith, My Life by Jennifer Gamber. The website for this book shares a variety of helpful tools for youth workers and volunteers. The following link will introduce you to a portion of a sermon, written by a high school senior in Newtown, Connecticut. This sermon reflects her experiences within her church and is an inspirational glimpse into the gift a youth community can make in a young person's life. Find the sermon at I encourage all to read this testimony and embrace the growth she received as a member of a loving church family. 

So the answer is yes, youth are the future of our church. Yet they are not "only" the future, but are the church today. Blessings! 

This post first appeared 11.12.13 in Coastline, the online newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of the Gulf Coast. It is reprinted with permission.