Well, another youth ministry program year came to an end with the confirmation of students. The students made a public statement, affirming their baptism, and their desire to have Jesus in their lives. For me, it has always been a day in which I swell with emotion and thank God for the students and their families.
However, I think for those not active and connected to youth ministry in some way, it can easily feel as if these students and families are in their own microcosm within a congregation. Some believe that they should not have to “do” anything to nurture the faith of the youth in their congregations because it is their parents turn to step up, do their “duty” and be active in the ministry as they did when their children were that age. And, while I understand that to a degree and acknowledge that parents also need to play a role, it ignores the fact that our world has changed drastically. Some, understandably, may mourn for how things used to be instead of looking forward because change is hard. While faith seems to have been pushed into the backseat, and for some completely pushed out by so many others things in our culture, things will only change if we do something about it, all of us.
When I hear statements like those above, I am terribly sad. Sad because this seems to me as though the sharing of God’s love that has been freely shared with us despite our weaknesses, is being withheld from the students. And, as a community, we are failing to nurture their faith because of their parent’s perceived attitude and lack of involvement in what we think they should be doing, while also withholding grace, mercy, and forgiveness from the parents. As a church, where do we need to ask for forgiveness as contributors to this?
How do we expect things to ever change if that is the position we take?
This is part of being a disciple.
I could go on for pages about the complexity of this challenge we face as the Church in the 21st century, but I won’t, and I would love to chat with anyone about it at any time, find me, or email me, please! But the fact is that it takes a community each playing a part in the other’s faith formation to nurture it into flourishing.
Think about your faith, who played a role in that?
I am willing to bet it was more than your own personal study.
How will you be a part of embracing young people in your congregation, nurture their faith, and demonstrate what it means to be part of the body of Christ?
As part of their confirmation, students must write a paper on a Bible verse that is particularly meaningful to them explaining why, including how God has been active in their life, and their time in youth ministry. I would like to share some excerpts from their essays that provide witness to not only the role others have played in their faith formation but the impact of this vital ministry. These students are amazing, they are intelligent, insightful, and have amazing questions. I pray your hearts are encouraged and find hope for the future of our Church in their words as I do.
“When I came to youth ministry I felt like I was part of a family, I formed bonds here that I never would’ve made elsewhere…”
“I have made best friends that I may have never thought of talking to if it wasn’t for retreats…I have made life-long friends that are unquestionably some of the greatest gifts I have been given.”
“I have learned a lot about acceptance, and I wouldn’t have if a person I met here didn’t teach me, I truly think that this person was sent to me by God and I can tell her everything….I really wouldn’t have been able to truly discover who I really am without her in my life.”
“I have met people who may not even know the huge impact they have had on my life (referring to a Lenten Journey Partner, a ministry that pairs youth and an adult).“
“Today most people take for granted what they have and don’t have much involvement in the community. If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have any experience with going out into the community, serving people food, and making tied blankets for the elderly in nursing homes. It made me realize Jesus did something or us, what can we do for him?”
“Youth ministry has helped me to understand religion better and get to know God in a more unique way than I ever expected. It also opened a gateway to camp, which was the place I accepted God into my life for the first time.”
“Seeing so many people excited to learn and share their experiences has been so amazing. I find it so much easier to know God when you are able to have fun at the same time. Youth ministry has allowed me to do just that. I got to let God into my life with the support of my friends.”
“Youth ministry also allowed me to help support my community with volunteer work, in fact, it helped me to see the community within the church itself. I got to meet so many new people and really got to know them better (Community Meal, Lenten Journey Partners).”
“…because I choose to follow Jesus, I rarely see darkness. “
“I believe Jesus is challenging me…”
“My favorite times in church were during lent when I got the pleasure to meet Donn(Lenten Journey Partner) and his wife, who are very, very nice people. Donn and I got into some very deep conversations that helped me out with stress, and we talked about things that I didn’t talk about a lot.”
“Being a part of youth ministry has shown me so many things. I have learned that the way we believe is all different, different ways to pray, different ways to look at verses, etc…”
“Before youth ministry, I never really understood how to have a deeper connection with my faith until I put more effort into my relationship with God and realized how much we truly need his guidance.”
“By being around people of similar interests, I am able to share my ideas and view and learn the ideas and views of others. It is a very deep experience.”
“I really got to think about what I believe myself and that was a really good thing for me. I got to question what being a Christian means to me. I have had the chance to ask questions about my faith and about God. It is amazing to be able to discuss Christian views and beliefs with others.”
I have learned that “God’s strength is more than you could ever imagine, the support and guidance he gives us is uncanny.”
“Life is a long road with many turns and detours and roundabouts. But to get in the right direction we need a GPS. God is our GPS.”
I have learned that “God created me how he wanted. I will have imperfections. People are going to say things, but you cannot be confident in yourself unless you are confident in your God. The only opinion I want is the Lord’s. Just like when the Israelites went to the Promised Land, I know I am protected, and God is with me.”
“Never once did I feel like I couldn’t share about my history, or my thoughts because it is like family here. They didn’t judge me or bring me down. The door was open, and I was welcomed to a loving church that I am so happy to be a part of.”
“Before being a part of Saron, I was never really sure what God meant to me. I had so many unanswered questions, but no one to ask.”
“I could not be more thankful for this church and the church community. I know that when I started coming, it was because someone was calling me and that someone was God.”
“The Spirit of God does not make me timid but makes me strong. When someone questions my faith, I can defend myself, I can explain my beliefs and values. I can live with confidence now that I know God has given me the Spirit in which he lives through, and in which he gives me strength.”
“Youth ministry has taught me that faith is a true gift from God.”
“I have my own self-worth and can achieve anything that I believe in if I trust God’s work and myself.”
“Being in a community where I felt safe to share my faith is such a blessing. I’ve gotten to grow in my faith alongside some on my best friends.”
“I’ve been in the youth ministry program since the 6th grade. This program has absolutely changed my life. Before starting confirmation, I did not go to church very often at all and didn’t know really where I fit into the grand scheme of things. My view on that has changed a lot over the past couple of years. I started to talk to more people within the church and be involved in more things and learned how amazing everybody is and how many different stories people can have that have to do with God. This year I have been getting more involved and trying to learn as much as I possibly could and try to enlighten some of my friends along the way.“
Thanks for sharing these comments! They make me proud of our Saron kids and great hope for our future! Thanks for all the work you and all who work with these kids do!!