I live for the moments when a student’s eyes light up when they realize because of the Resurrection they no longer need to cling to sin. I am moved to tears when a student repents of sin and accepts Jesus as their Savior. There’s nothing quite like it! As a pastor, it’s these reasons and the countless others that have kept me in youth ministry.
And then comes high school graduation…
My mind goes often to the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). Part of my job is to scatter the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it lands on many different types of surfaces (road, rocky, thorny, good). And I watch in the seasons after graduation as many students show what kind of surface had been cultivated in their lives throughout childhood and high school. And the results aren’t very encouraging.
Students are leaving the church. Even worse, they are leaving the faith altogether. In my experience, to say that half the students in youth ministry stay in church would be generous, and I’m not the only one who is seeing this trend.
The blame can be placed anywhere. “The youth pastor isn’t doing it the right way.” “We need more events to attract students.” “Parents aren’t following through with their responsibility to teach their children about faith.” All of these reasons (and more) have validity to them, and there are elements to each that we must investigate in our own selves and church and see what changes need to be made to correct the problem of young generations leaving the church.
For us all, though, I must echo the challenge once again that Francis Chan provided in the video I showed in my sermon several weeks ago. “Would you [the older generation] set the example for the young people?” By doing this, we are cultivating good soil within the next generations.
Can we LET GO of an Americanized version of Christianity that asks, “What am I getting out of church?” If we approach church that way, then the younger people will as well. We must stop thinking that discipleship is merely dropping our children off to be taught about God, but instead REIMAGINE discipleship as breathing and living God every second of every day with every inch of ourselves. Can we do that? Will we REFLECT the person of Christ as if we were the very mirror image of Him to the world? Are we able to unite as a church, TOGETHER for one common purpose: to PASS ON the truth of the gospel to everyone, praying that their soil has been cultivated and enriched to where roots set in and the hope of Christ blossoms into a beautiful image of Jesus Christ?
At ECOB we are calling ALL: the older, the youth, the middle-aged, the singles, the young married couples, the widows and widowers, the empty nesters, the children… ALL… to begin taking on this NEW (though it’s really not that new) approach to discipleship. We must be willing to embrace the five values mentioned above: LET GO, REIMAGINE, REFLECT, TOGETHER, and PASS ON.
And we are going to be providing an opportunity starting September 7th for this approach to discipleship to take place. Wednesday nights will no longer be focused on just children and youth. Wednesday evenings are now going to be a ministry focused on how each of us can take on the responsibility Christ laid out for us in being his followers (Matthew 16:24).
This new ministry IS NOT an adaptation of Children’s Ministry. It IS NOT a new way to do Youth Ministry. This ministry is DISCIPLESHIP, and ALL are needed to make it happen. We are trying to create an environment to cultivate the soils in the lives of all the members and attenders at Eaton Church of the Brethren.
I promise you, this doesn’t mean we are going to cease Children’s and Youth Ministries. Yes, these ministries will be changing, and looking different than they did before, but we are not deleting them. Our hope is with our approach to discipleship on Wednesday evenings, we will be able to cultivate the kind of soil needed for our Children’s and Youth Ministries to flourish! But not just those two ministries… Men’s and Women’s, One Another Groups, Bible Studies, EMT, Missions, Luke 3:11, 2nd Saturdays, and any other ministry I’m forgetting will benefit from our intentional focus on discipleship.
So are you ready? Are you ready for what God has in store for ECOB? Are you ready to set the example for the younger generation? I know I am!