What Young People Need: A church that will care more about who they are becoming rather than who they are

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This is part three of a five part series.

It’s a bold statement is it not? To suggest that churches shouldn’t care much about who people are when they set foot in your door? Let me clarify.

This month we taught two different times from the book of Matthew 9:9-13 at our weekly Youth Night… (why twice? More on that on another, future blog). The story where Matthew, also known as Levi, get’s approached by Jesus and seemingly immediately follows Jesus and leaves behind his old life in pursuit of following Jesus.

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.

10 While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13 CSB

Matthew, a young person, was doing what he normally does: collect taxes. In doing so he knowingly and willingly stole from people in order to make a living. This ‘tax collecting’ business was dirty and corrupt, and everyone knew it, yet no one could do anything about it as Matthew was collecting taxes for the Roman government.

Then Jesus showed up and changed everything for a young Matthew.

Here is what we see in Jesus:

1) Current potential always trumps current position.
Matthew and all his dirty business did not scare Jesus. It shocking! As young people walk through the doors of your church often times we look at what they bring with them rather than who they are becoming. Jesus meets Matthew as he is and invites him on an adventure. May we do the same in our churches.

3) ‘Come and learn’ versus ‘come and do’
Jesus’ words towards Matthew were “follow me”. Two words that are packed full of a lot of meaning. But Jesus is seemingly inviting Matthew on an adventure to begin to do what Jesus does, say what Jesus says, and go where Jesus’ goes. Jesus’ posture is everything here. When Matthew dropped everything to follow Jesus did his life suddenly become sinless? No. The Bible discusses this. But does Jesus invite him into a lifetime of grace and forgiveness? A life of falling, getting up, dirtying his feet, only to get them washed by Jesus? Yes. Jesus is saying come and learn as you lead.

2) Reclining with sinners is better than running with the righteous.
The very next scene Jesus is ridiculed for reclining with sinners. The Bible is clear that we ought to be a light in the darkness, a light amongst sinners—Jesus reclining with them symbolized two things: 1) he didn’t condemn them (see point 1), and 2) he wanted relationship with them. Don’t use this text as a means by which you theologize your way into “partying is ok”—that is a bad view of the text. Jesus’ intention was to show that what he saw in Matthew was not mutually exclusive—it’s for all sinners. We must see this portion of the text as say “I am reclining with Jesus as he sits with me, accepting me, pulling, and nudging me into who I am becoming”.

Young people are notorious for being viewed as mischievous, loud, opinionated, addicted to technology, amongst many other things else we put on them. What young people need is a church that recognizes where they are, but because of Jesus, a church that will eclipse all of that because we know who they are becoming.

Here are some ways you can embrace the potential of young people:

1) Hand them the keys of the ministry
Put young people in positions where they can lead and serve. And I don’t just mean the jobs no one in the church wants to do. Put them on the worship team, put them on the cameras, listen to their ideas, and let them lead. High School pastors, change the focus from a grand numeric value, and start assessing how many of your students are on your student leadership team. Give them a voice because it’s those voices that hold the future of the church.

2) Go out of your way to see them
Non student pastors this is huge! Don’t wait for your High School or Youth Pastor to ask you to come and say hi to them. Come to church early and swing by the Youth service and say hi to three students. If they are serving on the worship team, worship pastors, pull them aside and give them four minutes to work on their vocals alongside of you. A small gesture can go a long way.

3) Give your Next Gen. Pastors more leadership opportunities and visibility
Many churches view the student pastor as a utility pastor who goes over budget and never cleans up after his/her event. What if churches elevated the student and college pastors to be more present in the life of the church? If it is true that these pastors represent the young people they lead, then maybe we ought to do a better job at elevating these roles rather than diminishing them.

4) Create easier ways for students to serve
Often times students are not spiritually ready for the leadership commitment—some are, but many aren’t. And that’s ok. Churches need to create and find ways that don’t compromise their leadership commitments, but allows for people and young people to step in to serve. Here is what we have done:

We have adopted a “come and learn” mentality in our Culture teams. Our ministry here at Mariners Youth has another way that students can serve and be a part of what we are doing by allowing students to take pictures, serve coffee, greet at the doors, edit pictures, and many others as a way to allow for students to “come and learn”. These culture teams are an onramp to our student leadership program. Billy who takes pictures every week now has a role, after five weeks of taking pictures Billy is shoulder tapped by a leader and say’s “i’ve noticed that you love taking pictures and are good at it… would you be interested in more?” Billy applies for student leadership and now leads other students who are taking pictures now as a student leader. Billy is not only learning to take pictures but he is learning how to pray, lead discussion, and learning critical spiritual disciplines… and it all started with a small passion to take pictures.

Let’s create churches that embrace the potential of our people, especially young people.

Til’ Next Time
-Alex