Socrates once said it was "strange that we spend so much time in getting money and so little on those to whom we are to leave it." We are interested in earning a living and in providing for the comforts and necessities of our children. We are interested in what our children eat, what they wear, whom they associate with, and how they are progressing in school. Yet in spite of all this solicitude, not all our children are taking their stand for God. Why? Is it because we care for the physical aspects of life, and neglect the more important phase, spiritual life?
"Sometimes parents do not dare to talk to their children because their own life is so selfish, so sinful, so narrow and trivial. How can they ask their children to do what they are not willing to do themselves?"Motives and Methods in Modern Evangelism, p.
Even though a fair amount of the responsibility rests on the parents, the pastor should also carry his share.
The times in which we are living today require the constant vigilance of the pastor over the young people. It is a sad but true situation that today hundreds, yes, even thousands of potential church members are being lost to the church because there is too little intelligent effort put forth on the part of the pastor and the parents to hold youth in the church.
References to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit of prophecy give us ample evidence as to what the duty of the pastor should be in relation to the young people. Mrs. White has the following to say concerning the pastor's duty :
"Very much has been lost to the cause of truth by a lack of attention to the spiritual needs of the young. Ministers of the gospel should form a happy acquaintance with the youth of their congregations. Many are reluctant to do this, but their neglect is a sin in the sight of Heaven."—Gospel Workers, p. 207.
What the young people need today is the personal touch which the pastor alone is in a position to give. To a large degree the young people's concept of "What is a Christian ?" is based on the life of the pastor. If all the pastor's activities are exclusive of the interests of the young people, they will gain a wrong inipression of the true Christian and his work.
J. L. McElhany has stated that "the future of this cause depends upon our young people. The Missionary Volunteer movement is the whole church organized to save our young and train them for service."—Young People's Worker's Aid, no. 10.
This organization of the church to save the young people must of necessity be sponsored by the pastor. He is the key to the success or failure of the .enterprise. If the pastor manifests proper interest in the young people, he can attract and win them to Christ.
"Let him . . . cultivate the friendship of the .children of his own church members. They are a charge for which he is responsible. They ought by this time to be familiar to him by face and name, through family visits or casual meetings. This acquaintance is now to be improved into a nearer confidence. To invite them to the . . . parsonage, set them small jobs to do about the church, and in every way exhibit a frank interest in them, will more surely and more richly repay his trouble than any other duty he can take in hand."—The Christian Minister and His Duties, p. 345.
Train Youth for Service
The youth today are living in a world in which corruption abounds. Satan, the archdeceiver, is directing his attack against the youth. It is his plan to lead as many as possible to destruction. Mrs. White says in Gospel Workers that "the youth are the objects of Satan's special attacks ; but kindness, courtesy, and the sympathy which flows from a heart filled with love to Jesus, will gain their confidence, and save them from many a snare of the enemy." —Page 207.
It is important to have the confidence of the young people. What a tradegy it is when the youth of the church cannot look- up to God's ordained leader with confidence ! Instead of devoting his full time to shepherding and feeding the mature in the church, how much better it would be to devote some of his time exclusively to the youth.
A Scottish shepherd was once asked how he was able to produce so fine a breed of sheep. He answered with pride, "By taking care of the lambs." If we water and nourish the youth and train them in the way they should go, in the years to come our church will reap the result of sanctified church members.
Thomas, in his book The Work of the Ministry, states that "parochial work among children will always occupy an important place in the thought and interests of a clergyman's life." —Page 327. He suggests that it is his duty to become better acquainted with the young people through (1 ) the day schools, (2) the Sabbath schools, (3) children's services, and (4) during special meetings on weekdays. The messenger of the Lord says:
"The eyes of our brethren and sisters should be anointed with the heavenly eyesalve, that they may discern the necessities of this time. The lambs of the flock must be fed, and the Lord of heaven is looking on to see who is doing the work He desires to have done for the children and youth."—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 196, 197.
A survey of 4,979 youth in the North Pacific Union in 1941 revealed that more young people were baptized at the age of twelve than at any other age.
According to the survey, baptisms decreased rapidly after the ages of twelve to fourteen. These are the formative years of a child's life. It is the consensus among youth workers that there are less apostasies among those young people baptized during the formative years than among those baptized during the more mature years. This all points out the significant fact that it is during their earlier years that youth need the tender and firm guidance of their pastor. I do not discount the efforts of Christian teachers, Missionary Volunteer leaders, and others who are devoting their time to the young people. However, during this period the pastor should become acquainted with the youth so that they will look to him as a friend and a personal spiritual adviser rather than just another preacher.
When Eric B. Hare was Missionary Volunteer secretary for the Northern California Conference in 1933 he conducted a census among the youth of that conference. He found that 64 per cent were enrolled in Christian schools, and 36 per cent in secular. Of the 64 per cent in Christian schools far more children were baptized and remained in the truth than in the secular schools. Likewise better results were seen in homes where both parents were Adventists than in divided homes. A summary of the result follows.
(See PDF for results)
Some Ways to Solve the Problem
In summing up, all indications seem to point to this one fact: If we as a denomination could hold and baptize into the church all our young people, our gain to the church would be equal to, if not greater than, the gain to the church through the evangelization of non-Adventists. It is a challenging thought. Are we neglecting our own heritage to garner into the fold those not of our faith? This is of great significance to the local pastor. The following suggestions offer a solution to this problem. They have been found to bring good results by those who have carried them out.
THE CHILDREN'S SERMONET.—Far too often the young people are not made to feel that they have a place in the Sabbath morning sermon. The service is conducted almost exclusively for the benefit of the older members of the congregation. Rarely is any thought given to the young people.
"At every suitable opportunity let the story of Jesus' love be repeated to the children. In every sermon let a little corner be left for their benefit. The servant of Christ may make lasting friends of these little ones. Then let him lose no opportunity of helping them to become more intelligent in a knowledge of the Scriptures. This will do more than we 'realize to bar the way against Satan's devices."—Gospel Workers, p. 208. (Italics mine.)
In this passage Mrs. White points out a very vital truth in our dealings with the youth. If each pastor would put this principle into practice, he would gain the respect of both parents and children. The children would be made to realize that the church service belongs to them as well as to the older members. The serrnonet will also help encourage the parents to bring their children to church rather than take them home after Sabbath school.
Farrar, in his little book entitled The Junior Congregation, makes this helpful statement:
"When the minister speaks to the juniors, he should forget, as completely as possible, the presence of the seniors. For six or seven minutes the children have the right of way and the right of the minister. He should not preach 'at' the children, but portray a great principle before them. The sermon should unfold one glad, noble, Christ-centered truth, and be itself unfolded, as an aid to memory, in a pertinent story or anecdote. The attempt should be made to clarify rather than to 'simplify the sermon.'"
To the pastor who intends to devote a few minutes to his junior congregation each Sabbath morning it might be well to suggest that special care be taken to make it a digest of his Sabbath morning service. In other words, by first simplifying and illustrating the sermon for the young people they will be able to gather some meaning from his sermon to the older members of the congregation.
The pastor must learn the art of talking to children. They do not like to be "preached at." It will also be found that a special song and prayer for the youth will do much to gain and keep their attention.
SABBATH SCHOOLS.—The pastor should become acquainted with the young people in his church by visiting the different divisions of the Sabbath school. The youth will learn to love the pastor who from time to time will drop into the various divisions and tell them a story, give them a short talk, or pray with them. He should make it his duty to contact the teachers of the different classes and find out the names of the youth who are not baptized. They should then become the object of special work and prayer on the part of the teacher and pastor. At times the pastor may organize a prebaptismal class and give instruction and guidance to the youth.
CHURCH ScHOOL.—The pastor should not be a stranger in the halls and classrooms of the church school. His coming should be anticipated with joy on the part of the teachers and students. The pastor might well be invited in to conduct worship once or twice a month. Also, if he feels that he can spare the time, he might teach the Bible classes for a week or two during the school year.
YOUNG PEOPLE'S ORGANIzATIoN.—Here too the pastor will find a rich harvest for his labor. Let him work with the young people in their Progressive Class work. Lack of interest on his part will instill the same spirit in the youth. The young people's organization will give the average young person the chance to develop spiritually.
OTHER SUGGESTIONS.—Let the pastor keep a list of names and birthdays of the young people, so that he may send them cards and personal messages. He should develop the gift for remembering names. Young people like to be called by their first names. .
In conclusion, let us consider briefly the psychological reason why the pastor should develop the friendship of the children. J. Edgar Hoover said: "There is no possibility of wiping out crime by trying to reform the criminals. The time to strike at it is when the youth is ready to be molded into an adult."—"Crime, Juvenile Crime : Causes and Cure," Christian Statesman, September, 1946. Dykes has emphasized this point very well in the following paragraphs:
"About the age of puberty and for a few years after it, pastoral care for the youth of the flock ought to be at its maximum. As they approach that critical stage of life when adolescence begins, the Sunday school begins to be left behind as too childish. Character develops under .a sense of self-conscious responsibility, action grows independent, and the passions gain strength. From thirteen to eighteen or so is the most hazardous period of growth, when grave risks have to be encountered. Then, if ever, the pastor's eye should be upon a young lad or maiden.
"But if he defer making close acquaintance with them till they have actually reached or passed the critical period, it will often be too late to commence it then. An age of reserve sets in, even of suspicion. The approaches of one who has till then been a stranger may be sooner repelled than welcomed."—The Christian Minister and His Duties, PP. 343, 344.