Our window of opportunity is narrow. They are with us for only a short time. Our obligation to them should be at the top of our list of priorities. For, if we allow the opportunity we are given to slip from our hands, another generation of the church will be lost. I am speaking of our youth and our responsibility to teach them and guide them and prepare them for a lifetime of faith and service to God.
Pardon my bluntness, but the evidence of our weak resolve and shallow commitment to the spiritual instruction and development of our youth is stark. There are so many churches in our land, including our own, that are filled with senior adults but are so visibly short of middle-aged and younger generations. I applaud the faith of those in the twilight of their years, but I lament the absence of those between the ages of 20-50. I attribute their absence, in part, to a neglect of our children, a neglect particularly visible in smaller congregations like our own.
We neglect our children when we invest little time or resource in our program of Bible classes. Those who teach our kids need to be constantly affirmed by the whole church, and more of us need to be involved in teaching. Our classrooms need to be comfortable and spacious places where it is easy to teach and to learn. Our curriculum needs to be practical and meaningful and contemporary. We need to make available resources that facilitate visual and experiential instruction, for a child will effectively retain only 10-20% of what they hear, but as much as 90% of what they see and feel and do. We need to understand the different maturity levels of our children (herding 7th graders and 12th graders into the same class environment is usually counterproductive).
We neglect our youth when we fail to appreciate the constant pressures that they are under. Adolescence is the most difficult and formative stage of a person’s life; it is said that 90% of a person’s “value system” is formed before the age of fifteen. So, the church must help parents equip children to make right decisions, to place themselves in proper environments, and to nurture healthy relationships. The church can do this by programming alternatives to the unwholesome activities that are so pervasive in our society. An active and vibrant youth group experience can provide a young person with a safe haven in which faith can grow and a person develop in a nurturing environment.
As I was growing up, the youth center of the Green Lawn Church of Christ was the safest and most encouraging place I knew to go. I would go there after school and hang out with my friends, I would go there on Friday and Saturday nights; it was my home away from home. I did not have to worry about being tempted to do unwholesome things while I was at the youth center. I knew that I was surrounded by people who cared about me and loved me and who shared my faith in God.
We neglect our youth when we do not prepare them for service and leadership in the church. We need to teach our young men to lead in worship. We need to instruct our boys and girls on how to teach a Bible class, on how to serve the needs of others, on how to use their artistic and creative skills to enhance the education programs and aesthetics of the church. We encourage our youth when we show them that they are not alone in this development (our kids need the affirmation of seeing their peers from other congregations engaged in the same activities).
The most important mission of the church is to raise up its own young to be faithful to God. For, if we cannot teach our own, how can we proclaim the Gospel to the world?
Often times we talk a good game, but are we serious about the task?