2020 Vision – Youth
2020 Vision: Youth in the Church
Teenagers have been faithful and serving God at least since Joseph in Genesis 37. As we studied last week, Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery by his brothers. But he maintained a strong faith in Jehovah God, even when he was in a foreign country, surrounded by foreign idols.
I am frequently amazed at the spiritual strength our young people can have, despite the negative influence from their surroundings. But that spiritual strength is seen several times with examples from Bible times.
Most people in the Bible do not have their ages mentioned because generally, their age is not important. But we have indications of the youth of several people. For example, Ruth - her age is not given but she married, probably at an early age - mid-teens. She was not old enough to have had children before her husband died. I’m going to guess that she was a teenager when she decided she was going to leave the religion of her parents and worship the God of the Israelites. God blessed her, of course, by putting her into the lineage of Jesus Christ. I’m planning on having a trilogy of lessons from the story of Ruth later this fall.
David, of course, was a teenager when he faced off with Goliath. The maid who was stolen from the land of Israel who worked for the wife of Naaman, the captain of the army of Syria. You remember that she sent Naaman to Elisha, the prophet of God in Israel to be cured of leprosy. Esther was a teenager when she was chosen by King Ahasuerus to be his queen and Esther’s faith allowed her to save the nation of Israel from extermination by the Persians.
King Joash was 7 years old when he became king and he was a pretty good king in the eyes of God. King Azariah was 16 years old when he became king; he was a good king early in his reign. King Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king; he started off badly but eventually humbled himself and became a good king. Finally, King Josiah was 8 years old when he became king and when he was 18 years old, King Josiah started a restoration movement to lead his people back to the law of Moses.
There is strong reason to believe that Daniel was a teenager when he was first taken into Babylonian exile. So, the OT is full of strong, great examples of teenagers who led in their example of faithful service to Jehovah God.
The first Sunday of each month this year, I am focusing on a dozen things we ought to focus on if we want to be the church of Jesus Christ. I have given you a definition of the Swartz Creek church of Christ based on what Scriptures teach. “The Swartz Creek church of Christ exists, by the blood of Jesus, to share the gospel with the lost, strengthen the weak, encourage the members, and worship God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
For the first three months of this year, I took a theological look at “Vision 2020.” The last four months, I have turned our attention to practical matters. We have seen that we need to focus on:
We should honor God.
We should glorify Jesus Christ.
We should follow the Holy Spirit.
We should build up each other.
We need to worship God in spirit and in truth.
We need to reach out into our community.
We need to be united with each other in Christ.
Today, I want to encourage us to maintain a focus on our youth. Of course the Covid-19 quarantine has had a negative impact on what the church has been able to do to work with our teenagers. But, it has not stopped us completely. Jared has continued to have devotionals through the Zoom app, devotionals with our teenagers and our college-age members.
Two weeks ago we hosted our fifth-annual Teen Leadership Training Camp. We started off in 2016 with 7 teenage men to teach them leadership principles and help them learn how to study, interpret, and teach the Bible. We have had as many as 24 teenagers at our camp but as the demographics change, the number changes. This year, we had 11 teenagers in our camp, teenage men and teenage women. Jim Watson and Nick Franklin from the Mt. Morris church of Christ came to help teach some classes. Cody came and taught a class one day.
Because we have not been able to have an in-person VBS this year, as we have advertised, we had our teenagers put on skits to teach Bible stories and to illustrate the importance of certain biblical principles. They had fun making these skits and everything was done under the direction and guidance of Jared. Jared is a fantastic youth minister and he has put the finishing touches on these videos for our “Stay-cation Bible School” and they will be posted on the church’s website, one a day, for the next four days, Monday through Thursday:
Stay Strong - The story of Job
Stay Christ-centered - The story of Stephen
Stay Joyful - The story of Paul in prison
Stay Hopeful - The story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
These teenagers spent 40 years - a full week of work for the typical adult - studying the Bible and Bible-related themes. I spent ten hours with them studying the letter of Hebrews and every single teenager developed a lesson from some paragraph in the letter of Hebrews. They spent time with the text; they examined the text; they interpreted the text; and they wrote a lesson which applied the text. They studied an overview of the Bible story. They studied how to know God’s will for your life and the power of forgiveness and the need to find spiritual support from fellow Christians in time of temptations.
Why do we do all this? Because we believe in our young people. When things can get back to normal, Tom Miller will restart his ministry to the elementary-age young people and with Jared as our youth minister, who has children in that age-group, Tom will have strong support in developing faith in our young people. Mike Jewell works with Jared in his ministry with the teenagers and Todd Jones helps too. Todd and James Pulley help Jared in his work with the college-age. We have tens of thousands of college-age students within a thirty-minute drive of our building and I want to see us reach those college students with the gospel of Christ. We need someone who can spear-head that effort and can dedicate human resources to that end.
YOUTH MINISTRY IS NEEDED:
Young people need the help, guidance, and encouragement that adults can provide. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul tells us that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others. Based on that same reasoning, we as adults have been teenagers before. We have experienced what they are experiencing. There is nothing new under the sun. So, we need to use our background, our experiences, to teach and to train our teenagers. If I have an opportunity to have an adult Christian who has dealt with drug addiction to talk to our teenagers, I’m going to have him do just that. If I have an opportunity to have an adult Christian talk to our teenagers about a pornography addiction, I’m going to do just that.
Why? Because #1, it shows our teenagers that our adults are authentic. They are not super-spiritual, super-Christians. Adults struggle and have struggled with the same things teenagers struggle with today. #2 - It shows our teenagers know that they can be open and authentic without being judged. #3 - It lets our teenagers know there are certain people in the congregation who have struggled with certain weaknesses so that they know who they can go to and say, “You spoke to the teenagers about such-and-such. I’m having the same problem. Can you help me?”
We want our young people to know we care about them and we are ready to burn the midnight oil if we have to, to help them develop their own, strong, faith in Jesus Christ. We want our teenagers to know they can do that and there is no obstacle that can’t be overcome if they have the right support network and we, as a church family, are their support network. So, if you have had some struggle with some specific temptation in your life, come talk to me or go talk to Jared and let’s see if we can help you, help our teenagers.
YOUTH MINISTRY CAN BUILD ON THE PAST:
Swartz Creek has, for many years, had a strong youth program. Jesus, of course, modeled the best method of youth ministry in His personal ministry - that of discipleship. Jesus’ example was this: spend time, lots and lots of time, with your followers. Invest yourself in them. Invest your love in them. Invest Truth in them.
Our leadership training camp, as I said, was 40 hours of Jared and me investing in our youth. When a professor of youth and family ministry at Abilene Christian did a thorough study of teenagers’ faith and what builds up their faith, he discovered that there are two major events in the life of a teenager that helps build faith: a mission trip and summer Bible camp. You know how strongly Horizons has had influence in the lives of our teenagers. When we don’t send teenagers to Horizons, we are stealing from them a great opportunity to have their hearts tied to the heart of Jesus Christ even more strongly.
Of course, I am a strong proponent of taking our young people - ideally college-age - to the mission field. There are so many important influences that such a trip can have over our young people. I went on several campaigns when I was at Faulkner and then at FHU. But we don’t need to wait to see if our young people decide to go to a Christian university before we involve them in mission campaigns. We can do that now, on campaigns that are well supervised.
WE CANNOT NOT HAVE AN INFLUENCE:
You have heard it said that if we don’t indoctrinate our children with the Gospel of Christ, Satan will fill the void. That is absolutely true. We are all influenced by somebody, whether good or bad. We need, we want, our children under the influence of godly men and women to help mould them, nurture them into strong, self-reliant, spiritually minded Christians. Our youth program does just that.
If I had a five-year-old, I would be glad to have him or her under the influence of Jared and Michelle or the men and women who teach in our Bible school program, who are involved in the Lads to Leaders program. I know that they are teaching our children the same things I am teaching or I have taught my own children at home. That doesn’t mean that the youth program is competing with me at home nor does it mean that the youth program is replacing the influence that Mom and Dad have at home. Quite honestly, nothing can replace Mom and Dad’s influence in a child’s life until they are into their college years.
But the youth program is supplementing the instructions and nurture that Mom and Dad are giving at home.
Youth need the church. Why the church? First, because the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). No other organization teaches the truth like the church of Jesus Christ does. That’s why youth need the church. Secondly, youth need the church because they need a social network. They need someone with whom to laugh, love, live, and cry. The church provides the social network within which that takes place in a spiritual atmosphere that is conducive to growing up in Jesus Christ.
Our youth are seeing all around them that you can’t put your hope in the economy. You can’t put your hope in politics. You can’t put your hope in military strength. The world says that happiness is found in shopping, in entertainment, in sex, in Instagram. But pleasure is fleeting. Entertainment only provides satisfaction short-term. The type of happiness that the world offers is only a momentary escape from reality.
We need a youth-ministry that is not just fun and games, entertainment, shallow. We don’t need a youth-ministry that says, “Yes, life on earth is a mess but one day, we’re going to heaven. How many marshmallows can you stick in your mouth?”
God sent His Son, Jesus, to the temple to listen to the teachers of the Law and ask them questions when Jesus was only 12 years old! We can and need to expect more out of our young people, on a spiritual level, than what we tend to do. They can do more. They will do more when we expect more out of them.
We want to teach our youth that meaning and hope are found in Jesus Christ, in a serious, daily, walk with Him. Our youth need the Gospel of Christ now more than ever. But not just: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. Those are all necessary, but our youth need to know the message of Hebrews. And James, and all the rest of the NT and OT as well. Jesus is the one who gives meaning to life.
Jesus came, not to escape the world, but to redeem the world. He came to overcome physical evil, embodied in emotional and physical sicknesses. He came to overcome metaphysical evil - Satan and His angels. Jesus came to overcome moral evil: sin.
As I mentioned about a month or so ago, the George Floyds and the Derek Chauvins of the world, of our community, need the Gospel of Christ and the earlier we can get the gospel into their hearts, the better they will be and the better our community will be.
Jesus says to the young: “Walk in Christ, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7).
Take home message: Let us focus on bringing youth to view the world with purpose and meaning as disciples of Jesus Christ.