I consistently harp on the theme of investing in the next generation. If you’ve read this blog much before, you know this. If you’ve read this blog a lot, you may be tired of hearing it.
It’s coming again.
Last night, I got to sit back in the sound booth and watch as this guy led worship and delivered a heart felt, Biblical message to our Middle School and High School students here at WestWay. His name is Shane, and he grew up in this church, in this student ministry, in this room… I’m invested in Shane. He’s a student at Nebraska Christian College now, and he’s doing a residency with us this year. For about 50 minutes last night, he had control of the room and used it to help students think about not just “how” we worship, but “why”, and even more importantly WHO it is that we worship.
There have been all kinds of thoughts swirling through my heart and head since last night. Let me blast you with a few:
- Sunday School teachers used to need reinforcements when this kid came along… or extended breaks! It’s awesome to see what God has done with the raw talent and extreme amounts of energy that He bundled up in this package called Shane as he has committed to giving God back all of that talent and energy. Don’t ever quit on the kids that don’t conform to the compliant church mouse mold. They’re often the ones He uses to change the world!
- Students have LOTS of ideas. Some of those ideas are incredible and some of those ideas are just a step short of stupid. Help students filter through their ideas and try some out. Let students experiment to try to find out what God’s wired them for. How else will they find out? Full disclosure: I still have stupid ideas, too, and need partners to help me sort them all out. I hope you do, too because I have a suspicion that the only way forward is going to require stepping into the Sea of Stupid Ideas and watching God part the waters to get us to the other side.
- Many churches have an age problem. We don’t trust young people to deliver what we think God wants delivered so we just keep letting the Baby Boomers “protect the platform”. And so Gen X has not returned to church after their college hiatus and the Millennials are creating new platforms where their voice will be heard. We have to stop. We have to trust GOD enough to know that He can deliver through 15 year olds in tennis shoes every bit as effectively as He can through 50 year olds in penny loafers or 25 year olds in those really cool flip flops. If students have given themselves to Christ and have His Spirit living in them, they are the church NOW and they have a mandate to make disciples. I sure don’t want to be the one to hinder them from doing so, do you? We have to equip them for the work Christ has prepared for them to do and let them get to work doing it.
- Students don’t need busywork. Who does? If student leadership means only letting youth do the grunt work in your youth ministry, that is not going to cut it. Invest real energy in students and trust them with real responsibility. Because you’ve equipped them, they’ll be ready.
- Once upon a time, Shane was the kid bouncing in his seat and I was the cool guy at the front of the room. A little nervous, full of ideas, and experienced enough to be the expert, but young enough to be the cool big brother. Now, I’m just those one kids’ dad, right? Not cool. Not at all. But Shane is. You should see our younger boys hanging on everything he says and does. They want to be like him a lot more than they want to be like me. I’m ok with that. (Some days I’d rather be like Shane than like me, too!) My job is to have helped him when he wanted to be like me, to know that what really mattered is only being like Jesus. Don’t hog the spotlight. Be a mentor and a consistent example for them to emulate, but don’t be the only one.
- I’ve been here for 11 years as the youth pastor at WestWay. Some of them have been hard. All of them have had some difficulties. There have been moments when I felt like walking away and when open doors had a lot to offer. But God has kept us here and continued to work through our ministry here. Last night was a visible example of the results of that longevity. I can’t say that God wants every pastor to stay at every church for X number of years. But I can say, you will never see this kind of fruit firsthand if you move to a new ministry every 3 years. Youth ministry cycles make it tempting to feel like we’re done when a good class has graduated or when we’ve gone through our best ideas from the last place we worked. And maybe it is time to go… OR maybe it’s time to stop doing ministry off of last year’s calendar and good memories, and ask the Spirit to breathe new life into our imaginations to fuel the new thing He wants to do next.
- Discipleship is hard. But it’s fruitful. And it’s what we’ve been commanded to do. Last night, I got a great reminder of why it’s so important that that has been my focus. And why it should remain so. Can we just stop for a minute and admit that if we’re not making disciples, we’re not really the church. The younger generations that live among us and with us, are a great place to start. Go, make disciples.
Comment below to share how you’ve seen discipleship happening in the next generation. I don’t have all the answers… What’s working for you? What’s not?