Making Disciples for Life

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a conference on youth ministry in Saint Simons Island where I heard from people who were both seminary professors and veterans of youth ministry. While there were many things that I was challenged by personally as a pastor working with youth, there was also a challenge that I need to bring back to you.

Rodger Nishioka, who is a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, shared with us that the most important factors in helping youth become life-long disciples of Christ are the following:
  • They need to consistently encounter adults who live out faith in natural and expressive ways.
  • They need to feel that they have a place within the congregation and not be segregated off in worship.
  • They need to develop deep and healthy relationships with Christian adults.
  • They need to see the rest of their family living out faith in ways that are consistent and continuous.

So let’s unpack that a little bit and what that means for us. First, it means that our youth and children need to consistently be able to encounter other adults within our congregation, and they need to do it in a context where we are actively living out our faith. While there are more instances of this happening in children’s ministry, it is not happening enough. It is barely happening at all with our youth.

Second, it means that we, as a congregation, need to be open to creating space for children and youth in our life in the church, particularly in worship. As things stand right now, we segregate the children and youth simply by the way that we do not include them or consider them in worship. We don’t speak in a way that connects with them, we use music that doesn’t jive with them, and we don’t ask or expect them to lead. We have to make room for some creativity in finding ways to help our children and youth know that they have a real place. We have relegated children’s and youth ministry to something that only occurs on specific dates and times, when instead, this ministry needs to become more of a conscious orientation towards including children and youth in the whole life of the church.

Third, it means that they need adults who are willing to actively be mentors. I am currently looking at possibilities for what this might look like in our congregation. A mentor is a person who is willing to engage not only over things explicitly of faith, but of life as a whole with youth and kids. This is a consistent, committed, and prayerful relationship that occurs between an adult and two or three kids.

Finally, this means that for those children and youth who have grown up in this church, above all else, they need their families to be consistent in demonstrating their faith through regular worship, study, devotion, prayer, and other practices that lead to spiritual growth. If a child cannot see or participate in these things with her mom, dad, or grandparent on a regular basis growing up, then the likelihood that she will leave the church as a young adult increases dramatically. It also means that when we talk about children’s and youth ministry that we need to do so in a way that actually considers the family unit and seeks to do family ministry.

This leaves a lot of questions for us, and they are questions that I do not have the answer to, nor can I answer them alone. Nonetheless, if we are going to continue to progress as a church, we need to seriously consider these things and what they mean for how we do ministry. The old saying is true: “it takes a village to raise a child.” If we want our children and the children around us to know Jesus Christ, then it will take the village, not just a youth pastor and a handful of other adults. Please pray about these challenges that we face and be open to the way the Spirit may lead us as we seek answers.