No Youth! No Church!

While I have been a protester since middle school, I will admit the recent women's march and detention center protests have been inspiring acts of public commitment to justice and fairness. They have also given me chant earworms that I can't shake.

I was mulling over the reality of "No justice, No peace" the other day, enjoying this nugget of Ubuntu truth -- I am not free/safe/equal unless we are all free/safe/equal. While this idea was rattling around in my brain, I read an article about the Texas Annual Conference and its stellar work attracting and developing young clergy. The director of leadership development pointed to a practice of encouraging local churches to claim (or reclaim) their role in identifying and encouraging youth with a gift for ministry. And, they support their churches' youth ministries in several ways.

First, they have a conference camping program and a conference-wide 2-week summer mission and reflection experience for youth. I have the opportunity to be a part of our conference board of ordained ministry and it is amazing how many young clergy begin thinking about ministry work at camp, on service or mission trips, or as part of their youth groups. Churches, even with a handful of children or youth, need to get those students to camp. They need to sing together, play together and even disrupt a bit together. They also need to stretch and be challenged in places of ministry that are new to them, with people they might not ever have met, in mutual service and care. Even for a week or two, these give students eye- and heart-opening opportunities for the spirit to work. 

Second, the Texas Conference offers summer internships for college students to work in local churches and encourages church members to visit and stay in touch with college students on campus. As a parent of college students, I know this is incredibly effective. College students are focused on getting experience in fields they may want to enter and paid internships are highly sought. And students away at school are incredibly grateful to be connected to home -- with care packages, visits, calls, texts and notes of encouragement. Even the smallest church can keep in touch with students and help them find internships.

Finally, the conference supports churches' youth ministries with clergy and congregational leadership training. Now, most Texas churches probably have youth ministries significantly bigger than small churches in the northeast and northwest. However, the ministry they do with their church youth can easily be done with community youth.

Most pastors know well that people seek out or are receptive to their presence at transition times in their lives -- births, marriages, new homes, deaths. Transitions are especially important times for youth as well. Moving from one school to another: preschool to elementary school; middle school to high school and graduation are all milestones that are made sacred when pastors are present, or the church hosts a breakfast, or makes a blessing bag or any other way of recognizing the importance of the moment.

Or, if the kids in your town are protesting, marching, advocating and chanting -- follow them and tell them stories about the Jesus' movement that stood up to the oppression of people who are poor and women and religious minorities. Because if there are no youth, then there will be no church.


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