Why the Church Needs Youth and Children

Last Sunday, we celebrated Youth Sunday in both our worship services. Colby Westbrook gave a beautiful solo. Our parents prayed for their children and then the youth prayed for their parents. Our younger children sang “This Little Light of Mine!” And Jacob Reinger played Jesus in a skit we did together for the sermon. I was so proud of all of them.

I have never met a congregation that said, “We’ve really got all the youth and children we need, so I don’t think we need any more!” Every church I’ve ever known wants more youth and children. Bookshelves can be filled with strategy books for this very purpose. But what matters more than simply wanting youth and children, what matters more than the strategies to attract them is finding our answer to the simple question “Why do we want youth and children?”

There are many popular answers: to make us feel young, to provide future insurance for an aging congregation, to entertain us. In my opinion, none of those reasons measure up to the reason laid out for us by Jesus. He brought a little one up to him and said, “If you want to be the greatest in the Kingdom, you need to be more like this child. You need to have the faith of a child.” For that reason, and that reason alone, we need youth and children in church. If we’re supposed to be like them in our faith, then we better have them around us so we can witness their faith and learn from them. I’d like to share one story of when I learned from children.

When I was in South Carolina, I volunteered at their youth camp. This Disciples of Christ camp for grade school kids was almost all African American. There were two local white kids who just came in for the day but didn’t sleep overnight. One day we were playing kickball, and one of these two boys, who was also one of the youngest, had the best effort of any kid there. What I mean is, when he went to kick the ball, he kicked harder than anyone else. You could see it in his face. He wanted to kick that ball so badly. Which meant that when he missed, every time he tried, he missed spectacularly. A complete whiff, again and again. He felt out of place before this started, but when the others started laughing at him, he got very frustrated. When it was time for lunch, this boy started huffing off on his own, stomping and talking to himself. And then this girl he didn’t even know, with her beautiful corn-rows and brown skin, maybe 6 years old, walks up next to him, wraps her arm around him and says, “I thought you did real good. Can I be your friend?” I wanted to just film that moment and show it to the whole world and say, “See! This is how it works!” When it comes to grace and love, we don’t have anything to teach children, we just need to give them space to show us how.

Our search process for a new Youth Minister is nearing its end. I told the committee at the beginning that I didn’t want them to feel rushed, that I wanted them to take the time to be picky, to find the right person, because our kids deserve it. And they deserve the full devotion of the entire congregation, not just from a hired Youth Minister. We need to love them and nurture them so that they can learn to practice their faith, and so that we can witness it and say, “Wow! So this is how it works!”

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