When youth become our conscience
May 17, 2008
In our denomination we have a week of services around Pentecost. Every evening we get together, and usually there is a theme running through, so this gives pastors some room to run through something in a short space of time. Also, it’s quite common to get someone from another congregation to preach for the week. We had ours this week, a week late, to accommodate the guy we got to preach for the week.
Every second Thursday we have a youth night. Nothing fancy, nothing grand, just a place where youth between 13 and 16 get together, sometimes play games, sometimes read Bible, sometimes watch a video, socialize and where I can build relationships with them.
When this clashed with our Pentecost service this week I decided to arrange that the youth join the service. Did I think that they would find this the most amazing thing ever to happen at church? No. I actually knew that they wouldn’t really like attending church. But if we do things parallel, then I’m actually saying to them that church is for old people, and not really for you. Something which is the exact opposite of what we would say in our congregation.
So we entered the service. About 15 of 20 kids, into a church with another 80 people or so. First we sang some hymns, and in great discomfort we sat there, kind of mumbling together, I tried singing, tried saying to them: “this is OK, you can sing”. Then a looong sermon started, about how we neglected our pneumatology and should make more of the holy spirit in the Reformed tradition, or something like that. First three girls walked out, then another two guys.
I’ve been using the reviewing methods of Roger Greenaway for a number of years now. In reviewing we would say that a bad experience become a positive learning experience when reviewed well. So I decided to scrap the program for the rest of the evening, and review the church service. What came out was the usual, discomfort in church, church being for old people (although they did say they are very positive about our informal service on a Sunday morning). Looking at something like Four Views on Youth Minstry, which I’ve read a number of years ago, they would actually go for something like a “church-within-a-church” model. Where youth go to a separate ministry, and at some point move over to the “real church”.
But sitting in that service on Thursday, noticing their discomfort, I suddenly realised that these people are our conscience. They are the conscience of the church. If we take them out, we can just continue playing a number of songs on the organ, while no one really experience anything, or like singing when it feels like your singing alone. We can keep on with long sermons that only a few insiders can understand. We can just continue doing church the way we do church, because everyone that is sitting their is trained that “this is how things are supposed to be”. But when our young people start attending in their masses, we need to ask the question: “Why are we doing this?”.
Because they do not know our church conventions that well, they won’t do things just because this is how it’s supposed to be done, they ask stupid questions which the rest of us know we are not supposed to ask. Malan Nelthought me this valuable truth in my first year, saying that: “When we take the kids out of the church, the rest of the church is losing out, not the kids”. I wonder what the preacher thought when the kids started walking out of his sermon? Did they address his conscience, or only madden him? What about the rest of the congregation?
I do think this is the more difficult approach to youth ministry. Because now the whole church need to start thinking youth, the “family” need to start thinking “teenager”, instead of just getting the “baby sitter youth worker” to keep their kids happy. But we need this. If you lose our kids out of the church, the church will lose.