When our young people speak, are we willing to listen even when their ideas are unfamiliar or different from how things have been done?
I call it the “vacant stare of obligation.” It is the look that comes across the face of a young person sitting through a Sunday meeting that does not reach them. They are completely disengaged, but they feel the need to endure the meeting with courage and dignity. The young person either believes in Jesus and feels obligated to be in church, or an adult has told them that they should want to be in church. Whatever the case, those who suffer from this condition struggle to connect because nothing in the meeting was designed with them in mind. While songs can be sung about their bravery in trying to hide their condition, those with a trained eye can easily spot the vacant stare of obligation.
Is the presence of young people in our Sunday meeting enough? Is getting them in the door the only goal, or do we want to get them excited to celebrate Jesus? If it is the latter, the vacant stare of obligation should concern us. Young people talk to us with words and actions. They will tell us whether or not our efforts to engage them are working — if we are willing to listen and if they see their voice matters. There are many congregations who do a great job of listening to their children. Any observer can tell that the young people feel like they belong. However, too often, children and youth are not even asked about how the Sunday meeting can be more inclusive of them. Too often, adults decide for themselves how to engage young people without giving the young people a voice.
There are many things that can be said about God, and among them are the following: 1) he genuinely cares about what we think; 2) he is amazingly accommodating. God wants to hear our prayers, and in his humility, he willingly dialogs with us. Furthermore, what we say matters to him, and the Bible reveals that what we say to God can actually affect him or his plans. In Matthew 7, Jesus says:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12)
I want to call our attention to the willingness of God to hear our voice. He extends to us an open invitation to talk and promises to listen. I find tremendous comfort and hope in God’s willingness to hear me when I call. Do we extend the same invitation to young people? Do we follow Jesus’ command in verse 12 and create safe spaces where young people can ask, seek, and knock? When they speak, are we willing to listen even when their ideas are unfamiliar or different from how things have been done? Do we care enough about their discipleship to come out of our comfort zone and try something new?
GCI has created a platform to hear the voices of young people: the GCI Healthy Church Challenge. We are looking for young people to share their thoughts about what healthy church means to them. I join the rest of the Home Office in looking forward to learning from our children and youth because we believe they too are included in the incredible things Jesus is doing. I encourage you to invite your young people to participate. If you are fortunate enough to have young people participating in the challenge, please pay attention. Listen to what they are saying and do all you can to make sure they know that their voice matters.
Generations Ministry Coordinator, US