One of the things that brings joy to the hearts of those working in youth and children’s ministry is Paul’s teaching in Ephesians:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Eph 6:1)
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (Col 3:2)
Here Paul instructs children as to how they should conduct themselves in the household of faith.
The content of these verses is important. (After all, what parent doesn’t like seeing the word of God address their children and require them to be obedient to their parents?!) But even more significant is the simple fact that they are there in Paul’s letters.
Here we see Paul addressing children as part of the congregations at Ephesus, Colossae and Laodicea (see Col 4:16)—and perhaps even more widely, if Ephesians is a circular letter.
The point is a simple one: Paul addresses the children as members of these congregations.
We often hear that young people are our future and, of course, this is true. No young people today means no older people in our churches tomorrow. Which is why we rightly pay attention when we hear of the high dropout rates among our young people (National Church Life Survey 2006 suggests that 43% of young people in Anglican churches at the moment will not be there after leaving high school and home). Young people are, therefore, in a real sense ‘future church’.
But this is not Paul’s view. He sees the young people he is addressing as the church of ‘today’. They are addressed in the present moment as believers and saints. They are treated as disciples with teaching in godliness appropriate to their role within the family.
Presumably, young people were present with the congregation when Paul’s letter was read out. They would have heard themselves generally addressed by the rest of the letter, and especially addressed by the particular section addressed to them.
Sometimes, perhaps unconsciously, we can slip into the mindset that youth and children’s ministry is a kind of holding pattern ministry, where we keep the children around, entertained and busy while we wait for them to grow up and then we can do ‘real’ ministry with them. This would be a mistake.
We need to be thinking about helping our youth and children to grow to be disciple-making disciples now, and not for some grown-up future day. Of course, we will do this taking into account relevant developmental and cultural factors but this does not diminish the ministry so much as contextualise it.
It was a real privilege to welcome over 30 youth and children’s ministers to the Youthworks College Boost workshops in January. One workshop was designed for people just starting out in youth or children’s ministry; the other workshop helped participants to think about the next step.
It was exciting to rub shoulders with brothers and sisters who had caught this vision of young people as not only the church of the future but also members of the church now: disciples of Jesus growing in their knowledge of him, learning about his love and grace for them and being equipped to serve him—now.
They represented congregations from Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra, Toowoomba and Brisbane who were putting serious time and resources into youth and children’s ministry because they realise the importance of what is being done with young people as disciples of Christ now.
They are working in their local congregations to help young people grow to be disciple-making disciples. How is it going in your congregation as you work with the young disciples of today?