We youth pastors and youth directors are all-too-familiar with the assumption that youth ministry is a temporary gig, a junior level position, and the first rung on the ladder to higher vocational aspirations. We are often asked if we consider ourselves to be "lifers" in youth ministry, which is really another way of saying, when are you leaving here to be a "real" pastor.
"However we may be justified in wagging our heads over modern youth's fantastic drive for freedom, it is certain that our final attitude cannot be surprise and opposition; the youth movement of the present time in all its phases is directed against authority for its own sake, and whoever desires to be an educator today must...stand in principle upon the side of our younger people" ---Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 292
This sort of posture towards youth pastors and youth directors relegates the spiritual formation and discipleship of young people to second-rate ministry in the church. It also further widens the already-existing gap between generations, communicating that the "real" work of the church belongs to adults.
The opening citation by one of the church's greatest theologians suggests that anytime youth ministry and those called to labor alongside young people are denigrated and devalued, the Swiss pastor rolls in his grave. The church must always be on the side of "our younger people." We must learn from their longings for freedom and their thirsts for justice. We must encourage their creativity and innovation as they live out the gospel in ways we may never have dreamed possible.
We must also be sure they hear our words of hope, our whispers of encouragement, and our advocacy for their ability to do far more than we, and maybe they, ever dreamed possible. In a world that constantly streams negativity and anxiety-laden messages, our words of support and solidarity will be welcomed messages of relief and liberation.
As I prayed and contemplated about what text to speak about to youth on the second Sunday of Advent, I stumbled upon Luke 2:22-38. Luke's narration of the Messianic family's encounter with Simeon and Anna is an invitation to lean into the gospel that knows no limits to age or gender. That is, the voices of hope and deliverance are from the mouths of the older members of the faithful people of God. And they speak promise to the next generation. They know the message of this child will not be received by all. They know the road ahead my be difficult and filled with seasons of sorrow. Still, they invite the new parents, who hold the Christ child in their arms, to hold onto the same hope that sustained them into their old age. This hope that was now awakened in the Christ child, "God with us."
This story led me to invite a few of our seasoned members in our congregation to share some of their echoes of hope with the youth of our congregation. What are their dreams for the younger generations as they follow Jesus in this world? Where and how do they already witness young people as faithful disciples of Jesus the Messiah? Here are a few of their beautiful and hope-filled responses that may resonate with our spirits this Advent:
"I hope they don't get stuck, and if they do I hope they don't stay that way. I hope they never fight a new way of being. I hope that when their dreams change, they stay passionate. My dream for them is that they dream big, that they realize this is their time and they should do everything in their power to work and make the difference God put them on earth to make.
I pray they remember the people Jesus hung out with...I pray they remember they were sent into this world with the promise of peace and they are to share this promise with others. I pray they remember it is not about them; it is about Jesus, and they are to be the example. I pray they remember it is about forgiveness." ---Jeanne
There were others, too. Thanks to all who shared. My prayer is for youth in our congregations to be affirmed over and again of their missional call in and for the world. I pray they hear whispers of hope, not only at Advent, but throughout the year.
"...take the actions we should have [for the planet]. Another concern is the prevailing feeling that today's youth can't hope to "live" as well as their parents. I would say that that's baloney. Don't define yourself by comparisons with the past; define yourself by your own dreams based on today's and tomorrow's realities and strive to achieve those dreams. One of my favorite sayings is "Today is the first day of the rest of your life..." [Youth's] strength and clarity of purpose always amazes me and affirms to me that they are on the path Jesus wanted in spite of all the roadblocks we "elders" have put in their path. I've seen many examples of how their experiences in youth group - retreats, mission trips, and the like - have changed them into disciples. I also see the strength that being a part of a group that follows Jesus brings, since I know that following Jesus isn't always seen as "cool" ---Burt
"My hopes for today's youth are that their lives would be lived around those enduring true narratives--God is good--all the time! God is trustworthy--even and especially in those crappy times when He seems far away. I would hope that they learn to look at their world, their lives, their blessings, the things that bring them joy, the past worries that have worked out, and see God's hand in all of it....Our hope would be that our youth would continue to find ways to do acts of goodness--their expression of loving God and loving their neighbors. It makes me think of learning to "be in the world but not of the world". This is an area where I believe youth already are often way ahead of us "elders". They question the values the world puts out there, and in doing so, can learn a better way. One that works for peace, justice, and brings the message of God's love through Jesus to the world." ---Jay & Judy
"I want youth to be the church that is the community of faith, community of hope, community of love and community of witness. I pray that youth find in their congregation [and] in our life together, such a witness. I see our youth witnessing to each other and to our community as they participate in worship, in mission trips, in interactions with our members, as they share statements of faith through Confirmation and as they live out those statements. I want to see youth challenge us to be the body we say we are or that we strive to be." ---Leah Johnson
I pray we as adults and educators alike stand on the side of youth not only in principle, but also in action. May we listen to their unique contributions to theology, their innovative expressions of the church, and their deepest longoings to live into the gospel of justice and peace near and far.
May we do life together as a diverse and inter-generational community of faith, which hinges on amazement found in the person and work of this One they called Jesus.
Related Post: "Do Youth Trust Adults?"