The “church” includes all – Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, children, teens, and adults.
At the end of this month, we will celebrate Pentecost, the day the church was born. Luke describes the event in Acts 2:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 21-6 NIV)
Amazing! What a miraculous way for the church to begin! What a vivid image! For a moment, I want you to try to imagine the scene. As you replay this miraculous event in your mind, are children and youth part of your mental movie? If you are anything like me, for most of my life, the answer was no. When I thought about the church, I had adults in mind. Maybe children could grow up to be members of the church someday.
Sadly, I had this flawed view throughout the 10 or so years I served as a youth minister. It was not until I was a new pastor that the Spirit led me to repent. I was shepherding the GCI congregation in Waltham, MA, and we were overhauling the children and youth ministry. We had ministers, parents, and young people gathered together to talk about the best way for us to disciple our youth. The young people were doing most of the talking, and the adults were listening and asking questions. One of the things that struck me was the extent to which the young people wanted us to create spaces where they could invite their friends. In other words, the youth wanted the adults to help them evangelize their friends in a relational way. Amazing! Many adult Christians struggle to understand mission, yet those young people intuitively understood it. It was then that I began to understand that our young people are not becoming the church; they ARE the church.
I believe “the church” is the collective term for those who, by the Spirit, know and worship Christ, bear witness to the present reality of the kingdom in words and demonstrations, and participate in Christ’s work to reconcile all relationships to the glory of the Father. I ask you to read this definition slowly — phrase by phrase. Now, think about the extent to which you are equipping your young people to be active members of the church now. Teaching about God and the stories of the Bible are good things for us to do, however, knowledge is only useful if it can be used to fulfill the purpose of the church. And it is never too early to start helping children be the church.
In Waltham, I learned that we had to restructure the way we approached discipleship if we wanted to treat children and youth as valuable members of the church. This article may cause you to reach the same conclusion. Unfortunately, I cannot give you three easy steps to get started. Every situation is unique. However, I can tell you a couple of things that helped me.
First, I used the definition of the church to guide a prayerful study of how Jesus equipped his disciples and how the emerging church “lived out” Christ’s teaching. Second, I talked to my young people and asked them how they wanted to be spiritually formed. What came next was not perfect, just like what we did to disciple adults was not perfect. Yet, it was a big step forward because our young people saw that they were valued.
As we celebrate Pentecost, let us change our mental movie to include the younger members of the church. They, too, are included.
Generations Ministry Coordinator