Ten years in youth ministry means that I’ve been to a lot of meetings about youth ministry. There’s an exchange that has happened at so many of these meetings that I’ve lost count of them.
Some passionate youth worker talks about how important youth ministry is for churches and communities because young people are the ‘church of tomorrow’.
Inevitably, another equally passionate youth worker decides to ‘one up’ them with the now classic, ‘They’re not the church of tomorrow. They’re the church of today.’
If this is you, I’d like to ask you to please stop doing that.
I know that you mean well … and it’s a lovely sentiment … but most of the time it’s complete and utter horse manure. These words actually do more harm than good.
It’s time for us to truly evaluate whether or not young people have a voice in our churches. In my experience, they don’t. They’re considered too young or immature or naive or uneducated to have any valuable input. But this often says more about the way that we have raised them, taught them, discipled them and led them rather than about their ability or maturity. I’ve found that young people general live up or live down to the expectations I put on them. When I expect them not to contribute valuably, they don’t. But when I invest in them and expect them to bring fresh new ideas and possibilities to the table, they very often do.
When I’ve raised this before, people often respond that young people can vote on issues in their church and then proceed to invisibly pat themselves (and their denomination) on the back. But here’s what I want to argue:
Young people are not the church of today until they can go beyond voting and actually help decide what is worth voting on.
If the church is a ship, youth involvement is often just the choice they are given below deck.
You can choose to row. You can choose not to row.
Very rarely are young people allowed topside, to the captain’s quarters where conversations are had about what direction the ship is taking … and why.
Asking ‘Are young people involved in your church?’ is very much like asking me if I work out.
My response is ‘I’m a member of the gym at Shoreline in Greystones …’
I won’t say no … That would be embarrassing … So I give a half answer … a half truth … I pretend to answer the question … even though I’m not actually doing so.
The true answer is ‘No. I see the reason why I should. I know my need to. I have the opportunity to. But in the face of all those things, I choose not to.’
Here’s the horrifying truth of my experience:
Most young people are not the church of today … and never will be.
They’ll have to wait so long to be listened to and valued that, by the time they are, they will already be the church of yesterday.
Or else, they’ll leave before they get the chance.
And I can understand why.
So please, save me your sentiment. The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging we have one.