The following article was written by Kyle Shreve, missionary to Peru.
Young people are the future of missions, and to undervalue them is about the biggest mistake a church can make.
Hope that’s clear enough.
Sure, the 13 or 14 year old running around the church today, knocking things over, and deciding that kicking a football into the baptistry is a fun game, may seem like a pain, lazy, uninterested, or just plain hopeless, but that could not be further from the truth.
Every young person today is a potential missionary, and there is no limit on how God could use them. Just remember that most, if not all, missionaries and pastors today were a punk kid at some point in the past. I know I was.
My intention is, then, to give you some things to keep in mind when teaching, preaching to, or working with young people in the church.
1-Remember that they are an almost unlimited source of potential
I was a young person, and have worked with young people. I know that it is not always the easiest group to work with, but it is the group that could do the most in terms of missions and world evangelism.
They don’t have a job that enables them to give lavishly, or years of spiritual wisdom to impart, a family to raise for Jesus, so young folks may seem, at first, limited in what they can do. But that’s today. In the here and now.
Most adults in church have already picked their path, and barring an amazing work of the Lord, will stay somewhere on that path. If they’re in the business world, they will, with almost complete certainty, stay in that path. Obviously, there are missionaries and pastors who came out of that world, but they are, in my limited experience, the minority, and not the majority.
Young people however, have no ties to a job, no house payment to worry about, no 401k to consider, and are, in short, held down by very little, in terms of deciding on their future for Christ. To them, the path that leads to being a missionary has very few obstacles, and certainly less than someone who is 5 or 10 years into a career.
Young people in the church are like blocks of marble, or an unpainted canvas. What can be created out of them, given the right influence and input, could be nothing, or a beautiful work of art (or missionary for the Lord Jesus).
To consider the young people in your church as anything less that future missionaries, or pastors, is seriously undermining what God could, and wants to do, in their lives.
2-They are not like adults in terms of church-ification. (yet)
Here’s what I mean by that.
I have preached messages that I know bombed. For one reason or another, I stunk the place up preaching. I knew it, the church knew it, the pastor knew it.
But, for one reason or another, some people still said “amen” during the preaching, the majority paid decent enough attention, and afterwards, they told me they “enjoyed it” and I had done “a good job.”
Because that’s what we always do. I’ve been on the preaching end of it, and I’ve been on the listening side of it, too. It’s just our culture, and the way we do things. And probably because falling asleep and telling a preacher that, “you’ll get ‘em next time,” might be considered rude.
Young people, however, haven’t quite mastered this. They won’t come up and flatly tell you it was an awful sermon, or walk out midway through the message, of course, but their minds mind be far, far away, in a much more interesting place.
I find that if I can connect with the young people, most other people are enjoying it as well. (This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a general truth I abide by)
Adults will happily sit in church, listen to a message, say amen, and go one about their business, no matter the quality of the preaching. Young people haven’t mastered this yet. If you don’t help them see how it applies to their lives, and why it matters to them, they’ll tune you out.
And don’t look for young folks to be as visibly, or verbally, responsive as adults, either. While I am sure there are some 14 year olds who love to shout, wave their hands, and give response/feedback during the preaching, I find them to be the extreme minority.
All this means is that they are either not comfortable being so involved, and haven’t learned those traits. (yet, though they may in the future.) It can often feel like you are preaching or teaching to a wall when dealing with young people, but that is, most often, not the case at all.
Their lack of visual or verbal response is not an indication, or guarantee, of a lack of attention, or enjoyment of the message. Most of the time, I find that their silence is because they are genuinely thinking about the message and what it means to them.
Sure, young people don’t act like church-ified adults do. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying and learning as much as adults are.
3-They are slow growing crops.
You can plant a seed, and in a few weeks, or months, have some produce. You can’t, however, expect that same turnaround on your young people.
I was called to the field as a 14 year old boy. As a (newly) 25 year old man, I am now less than 6 months away from leaving for the field. It has been over 10 years since I first answered the call to the field. With the exception of 1 year between high school, and my first year in bible college, I’ve spent my time getting ready for the field as best I know how. And while there are a few things I think I could have done to have hastened my arrival on the mission field, it still would have taken a decade or so to get to the field from the time the Lord called me.
It takes time for young people to mature into a missionary, or pastor. That’s just the way it is. It takes children anywhere from 18-23 years to grow to their physical peak. And while spiritual growth should never cease, we can count on it taking a few years for a young person to mature.
The great thing, though, is that, given a healthy church/solid weekly preaching, time in God’s word (daily devotions, etc…), and Christian influence (parents, discipleship etc) they harvest is well worth all the time it takes to “grow” a young person into a mature Christian.
Just be patient, and constantly show grace, love and encouragement to your young people, and be amazed as God turns them into something great. Remember, they will grow to what you project for them (so to speak) so if you tell them they won’t amount to anything, don’t be surprised when it happens. But if you constantly tell them the Lord wants to use their life in missions, be ready to harvest some home grown missionaries in a few years!
I hope you realize just how valuable your young people are. If given the chance, I always prefer to teach the teen Sundayschool classes at churches for the simple fact that most of tomorrow’s missionaries will be in that room. Our young people are too valuable for us not to invest in them. The future of missions is depending on them coming to fruition!