Six opportunities for ministry to young people

In some parts of the world the church has few young people, while in other parts they form the majority of the congregation. Whatever their numbers, the church has a responsibility to minister to them.

Nikolaus Satelmajer is the Editor of Ministry.

They are the future of the church, the focus of the church, and they . . .

They are the challenge of the church, the ones who always expect change, the ones who are often dissatisfied, and they . . .

Who are they? They are the youth of the church and the community. How we view them has more to do with our attitudes than who they are.

In some parts of the world the church has few young people, while in other parts they form the majority of the congregation. Whatever their numbers, the church has a responsibility to minister to them.

My intention in writing this editorial is not to make specific program recommendations; rather, my intention is to offer suggestions so that each reader may determine what can and should be done.

Make our churches places of safety. Some readers may be insulted at the suggestion that some churches are not safe. While the vast majority of churches are safe for our youth, some churches tolerate predators because, as I have heard, “even they need salvation.” Indeed they need salvation, but not at the expense of our youth. As one predator told me, “I can’t help it if young girls are attracted to me.” What a self-serving statement that not only was untrue but was an attempt to provide an excuse for his sinful behavior. (In this particular instance, the congregation dealt appropriately with this predator.) Youth were safe with Jesus, and they should be safe in our congregations.

Recognize the beauty of young people. “Look at that beautiful child,” my wife often says, for she sees beauty in each child. I have no doubt that’s one reason she has spent a significant portion of her adult life educating young people. What do you see when you look at a child? What does your congregation see when it sees a child? In a number of congregations that I pastored, we made it a practice to elect two or three of the key leaders of the congregation, and then we focused on selecting leaders for the children. These congregations saw both the beauty and the needs of the youth.

Give them the gift of time. Over the years I have encountered individuals who were at one time young people in churches that I had pastored. What they remember most from those years are the times we spent together.

In one city we prepared the lower level of our house so that the youth could come and do things there. A large group came, and my wife and I had a list of activities planned for them. “How about we sing some songs?” we suggested. No interest in the suggestion. “How about we read something from a book?” But the response was the same. At the end of the evening we concluded that the gathering was a failure and that they would not return. But they did return—week after week. Eventually we did sing some songs, and we did discuss spiritual matters. But it seems that the time we spent together was the most important thing.

Focus on each one. All too often we focus on groups but forget the individual. Jesus, our Model, managed to find time for individuals. Do you have only one or two youth in your congregation? What an opportunity to make a real difference in their lives!

When my parents and I emigrated from Germany to the United States, I did not know English. The schoolteachers worked hard to help me, but I had begun school near the end of the school year. Just the thought of school vacation brings joy to young people, but for me it would have meant forgetting much of what I learned. The elderly lady who lived in the downstairs apartment offered to help me every day with my reading.

The house where we lived no longer exists, and the elderly lady is no longer alive, but one person helped one young person—me—to become an avid reader.

Walk with them. Some years ago I visited a country that at one time was under the strong infl uence of the former Soviet Union. This country had gained its independence only several years before. As I was walking down one of the main streets in the capital, I was startled because I almost fell into a hole in the sidewalk. Wires and waterlines run in tunnels under sidewalks, and usually the access holes have cast-iron covers. But in this city the covers were missing, and I, a visitor, was not aware of the danger. Had I been walking that street with a resident from that city, I am certain that I would have been told to be careful because the covers were missing. (They were missing because during the uprising against the former dictator, the citizens used them to shield themselves from the gunfire of the dictator’s military.)

As clergy we can walk with our young people and share with them the locations of life’s “uncovered holes.” Our words will not save them from falling into those holes; rather, our actions will help them.

Give them good memories. Good memories will help them develop into strong spiritual adults. Whether you have one or one hundred youth in your church, God gives you the opportunity to help them to develop in a world so often hostile to spiritual life.

The lead article in this issue, “Journey: the role of faith organizations in youth behavior,” challenges us to once again look at some important needs of our youth. But more than that, the writers open doors for us. Beyond those open doors you’ll find opportunities to minister to youth.

You can’t do it all; but what can you do for the youth whom God has placed in your congregation and your community?

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Nikolaus Satelmajer is the Editor of Ministry.

September 2006

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More Articles In This Issue

Journey: the role of faith organizations in youth behavior

How can faith organizations make the saving of the youth a part of their vision and mission?

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Sabbath: a memorial of freedom

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