by Kevin VanderVeen
As a youth pastor, I find myself praying for young people in the church often. I pray young people will discover the depth of God’s love for them and know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I pray they will take joy in God as the greatest treasure of their life. I pray they will become increasingly aware of how God has uniquely gifted them to serve in his kingdom. I pray the young people in the church may experience a sense of urgency to use and develop their gifts for God’s glory.
At Covenant, we are blessed with young people of all ages, and we’re learning how to approach our ministry to young people in a way that is strategic and developmentally appropriate. As we wonder about what this looks like, we find ourselves asking questions like:
How do we engage young people meaningfully so they will grow and develop spiritually? And what congregational practices lead to spiritual maturity in our young people? In my experience, we are not alone in wrestling with questions like these. The fact is, ministering to young people is an area of concern for the church, and we are all trying to learn how to do this well.
Each ministry context is different, which means ministry will take a different shape in each of our church communities. I would like to suggest, though, that there are some things we can do, regardless of context, to strengthen our ministry to young people. Strengthening our programs or making programmatic changes is not one of those things. If we are going minister to young people in the church effectively, then we need to think bigger; we need to begin thinking about the culture within our church communities. Young people want to feel as though they are a part of the church, and they want to be embraced by the church as a valued part of the body of Christ. To me, that suggests that we, as churches, need to enfold young people into the life of the church.
What would that look like?
Fuller Youth Institute put together a list of common characteristics that are present in churches engaging young people effectively. Here are four of those characteristics:
Cultivating authentic community through peer and intergenerational relationships.
Relationship is key, but youth need both peer and intergenerational relationships. Many churches offer opportunities for peer relationships but struggle with intergenerational relationships. I wonder what it would look like for us to get together, intergenerationally, to share our faith stories. We encourage young people to reflect on their faith stories, but do we ever share our stories with them? I have been blessed by hearing stories from the older members in our community. We have all experienced God in different ways, and sharing those experiences helps build relationships.
Treating parents as active partners in discipleship.
Youth ministry is always youth and family ministry. As churches, we need to find meaningful ways to encourage and equip parents as they partner with us in discipleship. Many parents want to be a part of their children’s spiritual growth, but they’re not sure how, so they hand off the responsibility to church leaders. We need to find ways to give parents the tools they need to partner with us in discipleship.
Intentional engagement with wider culture with a redemptive focus.
Perhaps the greatest gift that we, as churches, can give to young people is the capacity to think critically and theologically about the world around them. Our approach must be twofold: first laying a theological foundation, and second, engaging with broader culture with a redemptive focus.
Corporate worship that is both engaging and intergenerational.
In our context, one of the most celebrated times is corporate worship, and young people love being involved. We have young people leading worship, reading scripture and running our technology. Our young people love having leadership in worship, and the Covenant community has been blessed by their leadership. When worship leading and planning is intergenerational, young people are drawn in and engaged.
As a pastor, I pray for the young people in the church today, but I also pray for the church. I pray God may lead and guide us forward as we seek to be faithful to his calling for us. I pray the church may foster intergenerational relationships, partner with parents, engage the world well and worship in inclusive and meaningful ways.
When the church engages young people meaningfully, church ministry thrives. We are on a journey of learning how to engage young people effectively, let us learn together.
Kevin is part of the Niagara, ON Host Team as well as the Pastor Of Community at Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, ON.
[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]