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Lift Him Up

Are we lifting up Jesus in a way that our young people can understand and experience?

By Dishon Mills, Pastor, Charlotte, NC

When I was a director at New Heights Summer Camp, the other adult volunteers and I, witnessed the same phenomenon every year. We would have a chapel service every day, which included a time of worshiping God through music. On the first day of camp, the worship would be reserved. Most of the campers would be staring straight ahead with blank expressions on their faces. There may be some light singing and clapping, but, overall, there was a serious lack of enthusiasm. However, by the last day, you would think that our camp was filled with worship leaders! There would be lifted hands, joyous singing, and not a little bit of dancing. On the last day, many parents would join us for the chapel service. I would see them look at their children with amazed expressions, marveling at the change that came over their young person. Many parents had never seen their child worship so freely. This phenomenon was not unique to New Heights. The camp directors I have spoken to experienced similar transformations.


Sadly, many of our campers would return to their congregations, and within a short period of time, they would revert to their reserved selves. What happened? I asked some young people about it, and they said a lot of similar things. Having so many young people focused on Jesus together was a major factor. There was a positive kind of peer pressure. Since “everyone was trying to do the right thing,” as one young person said, campers could let their defense mechanisms down and “just be.” In addition to being part of a large group, several young people pointed to the relevance of camp. At camp, the children and youth sang songs that they liked and heard messages geared to them and what they were experiencing given by those who spent a lot of time interacting with young people. Finally, camp, with its different activities, required campers to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. Many of them, in real time, saw the promises of God in effect and had more reasons to worship.

Perhaps there is something here for our congregations to learn. While our children and youth ministries cannot replicate the experience of young people living with each other in a Christian setting, there are some elements of camp that we can replicate all year-round. For instance, while planting a church in Randolph, MA, we had very few young people in our group. So, I reached out to other youth ministries in the community and invited them to an evening of worship, in part, so our young people could connect with other young people and not feel so isolated. The event I planned was successful (we had about 60 young people participate) but a bit too costly. If I did it again (which is something I hope to do in 2024), I would keep it really simple. I would ask one of the congregations to host the event and invite each praise and worship team perform a few songs each. Each team would, at least, feature young people. Participants would be encouraged to invite their friends. In this way, we could have an evening of worship every other month, at least, and hopefully gain some momentum. This is just one idea to help young people experience Jesus in a relevant and meaningful way.

I am reminded of something Jesus said in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” This passage is especially relevant in this season of Epiphany where we concentrate on how we live since Jesus has been revealed as the light of the world. If Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all people (including our children) to himself. When we see bored young people in our gatherings, we should ask ourselves, “Have we helped to lift up Jesus in a way that our young people can understand and experience?” Have we asked our young people, “How can we make your discipleship more engaging and relevant?” Have we helped our young people belong to the larger community of believers who are following Christ together?

I pray that the Holy Spirit inspires you create opportunities for young people to get their own epiphanies about Christ. May we participate in the work of the Spirit to lift Jesus up.

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