Do you know the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual condition of young people in your community?
Nehemiah had a BIG challenge. Jerusalem, the religious center for the Jewish people, was in ruin, and God put it on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the Holy City. After a period of mourning, lament, and prayer (Nehemiah 1:1-11), he petitioned the Assyrian King, emperor of the region and conqueror of Israel, to lead an expedition to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-10). When Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem, what did he do to begin his monumental task? Did he start calling contractors to get quotes for the work? Did he gather the leaders in Jerusalem and show them his blueprints? Did he call the insurance company to see if the walls were still under warranty? Nehemiah did none of these things. Here is what Nehemiah did:
I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. (Nehemiah 2:11-13)
Nehemiah examined the walls. He wanted to see the extent of the damage and to see if there was anything that could be salvaged. Despite his brilliance and capabilities, Nehemiah entered the Holy City as a humble learner, letting the conditions on the ground inform his strategy.
For many of us, discipling children and youth feels like a monumental task – like rebuilding Jerusalem must have seemed to Nehemiah. Perhaps you are in a congregation that does not have any young people. Maybe you only have a handful of children and youth and you are desperate to keep them engaged. Many of us want to connect with our younger neighbors, but we do not know how. To those in this situation, my questions is, “Have you examined your walls?” Do you know the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual condition of young people in your community? Do you know the extent of the damage the world has inflicted upon them and what of God can be salvaged? Like Nehemiah, are you humbly seeking to know the state of your children and youth?
In 2022, we are asking GCI congregations to give special attention to the Love Avenue — focusing on how we bear witness in our communities to the King and his coming Kingdom. In most congregations, reaching adults is what naturally comes to mind. However, our younger neighbors also need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and be given an opportunity to experience the kingdom. In thinking about how to build up our Love Avenues, we should not neglect children and youth and follow Jesus’ command to bring the children to him (Matthew 19:14).
Coming up with a plan to engage young people is a monumental task. In fact, it is too big for us. The good news is that God has a plan to engage our younger neighbors, and Jesus is already at work in our community. Our job is to discern how to best participate in what Christ is already doing. Here are some ways to start:
Like Nehemiah, we should start with prayer. We should pray for eyes to see and a heart to care for young people. We should also pray for God to show us how to best participate in what he is already doing.
- Look at your community’s census data
Visit a site like Sperling’s Best Places (www.bestplaces.net) and plug in your community’s zip code. The site will give you demographic information, religious statistics, education statistics, and other useful information. Studying this information can help identify needs and opportunities.
3) Talk to local experts
Set up a meeting with a local school principal or staff at a youth-serving organization. Ask them what they see and the best way for your congregation to be a blessing to young people.
Volunteer at a local youth-serving organization to meet your younger neighbors. This will also give you an opportunity to learn from local experts how to best care for them.
The last thing I want to mention about Nehemiah is that he believed. He was not daunted by the condition of the walls. Despite the size of the job, he believed in a God big enough and strong enough to rebuild Jerusalem. That same God is with us today. I pray that you believe in a God who is big enough to use your congregation to be a blessing to the children and youth in your neighborhood. I encourage you to examine your walls so you can be a part of what God is building.
By Dishon Mills
Generations Ministry Coordinator, US.