At what cost? If we give up on the endeavours which yield the highest return because they are inconvenient, they cost us too much of our free time, or we don’t want to fund them, what does that say about us?
Perhaps it says we have lost our strategic vision. Unfortunately, children and youth ministry are often treated in a dismissive manner.
I find it a tragedy that those who enter ministry as children’s pastors and youth pastors are soon taught they are on the bottom of the prestige and pay ladder. They often discover these positions are considered ‘stepping stones,’ rather than long term or even life ministry prospects.
The positions which are in fact the most important to the church become hard to fill — because those who might fill them and provide the needed ability and talent are turned aside by our unspoken, but clearly articulated, values.
Our district superintendent recently wrote that “we are not a franchise anymore.” I consider that a good thing. The fact that creative and innovative approaches to worship and church life are the norm for our churches is a good thing. It’s not a healthy thing always to long for things to be as they once were.
Certainly, attempting to turn the clock back and do things exactly as they were done decades ago is not a productive option.
There must be new and innovative ways to accomplish the goal of reaching large numbers of children and youth in our communities.
However, it is probably not a wise thing to eagerly dismiss the tried and true. Somehow, both have their place.
I confess I’m spoiled. A few months ago, I said goodbye to possibly my best friend in the world (next to my wife): Sunday Line producer Velma Chapman. She was my teacher, and a key mentor for my ministry. She taught me the biblical reality of how God sees and values children.
She demonstrated a concern for kids that I have rarely seen in others. Most of all, she showed me — through her personal ministry efforts to young people — that children and youth are capable of having the most profound God experiences imaginable — and that their faith lasts.
Too many voices
The church which sits and waits — hoping the world will notice it — is destined to disappear. There are simply too many voices, choices and options in our society. No doubt many people in your church’s neighbourhood probably don’t even know it exists — even if they drive past it every day.
Velma’s rallying cry was straight from Jesus: “Go out in the highways and the byways, and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). Hard to do, with today’s busy, preoccupied adults. But a well-run youth program is very compelling.
As well, where the children and youth gather, eventually the adults come too. It is, at the very least, the point of contact your church needs with neighbours you would never have a chance to talk to otherwise.
Over the years, I have personally witnessed this reality in my own ministry. It is a delight to see young people from every kind of background — non-Christian homes, trouble-prone communities, both privileged and economically depressed areas, different ethnic and language backgrounds — all powerfully touched by the Saviour, in a lasting way.
I have the occasional pleasure of running into young adults who know me, whom I don’t recognize. They had God experiences early in life, which lasted.
I propose that it is time for us to take a new, critical view of the church’s role in broader society. We often hear that we live in a post-Christian age. We rarely hear about methodology or strategy which might actually move us back to a society where a large segment of society has a basic understanding of Christian beliefs and morals.
We are a lot like the nation of Israel. When the word of God was widely taught, it resulted in a nation which drew close to God. When this focus waned and ignorance of God’s word became the norm, the results were disastrous.
We know that changing laws does not bring the nation back to God. How about a concerted effort to change the hearts of a generation?
Rob McIntyre is distance education director at Summit Pacific College in Abbotsford, BC.