Why Ministry With the Next Generation Matters – Part 2: The Role of the Church

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, August 10, 2023

Why Ministry With the Next Generation Matters – Part 2: The Role of the Church

In the first installment of this series, I wrote the following: “Nothing in our society can do what the church can do in the life of a kid.  I believe that with my whole heart and being.  Why?  Because I’ve seen it, and I’m seeing it in my kids now.”

I will admit that’s a bold claim, but I think it’s true for two primary reasons.

The first is simple: there should always be a place for a kid in the life of a church.  Involvement in church isn’t dependent on skill or ability level, like many things in kids’ lives.  Activities such as soccer, dance, theatre, music, etc., generally become more specific as a child turns into a tween and then a teenager.  For example, in our community, plenty of kids play soccer in elementary school, but by the time high school comes around, only about 10-15 kids per grade are still playing soccer.  A similar pattern exists in many other activities that kids get involved in.

In contrast, connection to the church is based on belonging, whom someone is as a child of the Living God, rather than any given skill level.  Put another way, our message is this: you are welcome in the church whether you’re good at soccer or not – or good at singing – or not – or whatever else you may or may not be good at.  The church, at its best, welcomes people based on their inherent identity as a child of God, and this welcome extends over one’s entire lifetime.   We often age out of the places and communities where we can find belonging and connection as we age.  From the very beginning to the very end of our lives, there is a place for each of us in the life of the church.

The second reason is a little more complex, but I think the church is uniquely positioned to walk beside a kid (and their family) as they navigate through the development stages of childhood and adolescence.  As humans, and specifically as kids and teens, we tend to ponder three main questions

  • Who am I? (A question of identity and purpose)
  • Whose am I? (A question of belonging)
  • What am I good at? (A question of competence and purpose)

As disciples of Jesus, we have answers to these questions and are actively invited to explore the implications of each of these answers individually through active discernment and the support and witness of the community around us.  Who are we?  We are children of God, redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ and called according to his purposes.  Whose are we?  We are members of Christ’s body, united with him and joined to a community of disciples through the waters of baptism.  What are we good at?  God has made each of us unique and given us a specific set of gifts, and are called to nurture and use those gifts as we love God and others.

The beauty and the power of the Christian message are multi-faceted for sure, but specifically for kids, the Christian story is unique and empowering in a way that nothing else is.  In my almost 20 years of working with teens, I’ve seen firsthand the way that this simple narrative that I’ve described above can unlock potential and give a clear sense of purpose unlike anything else.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a high school student connected to the ministry at Crestfield.  During what was an ordinary conversation, reflecting on the week, they began to get really animated.  I knew this student had a deep heart for caring for and helping others and had previously shared with me that they have a long-term goal of being a therapist.  I casually asked them if their experiences that week at camp had caused them to reflect on that vocational goal.  They paused and said, “Yes, after this week I know this is what I want to do.  I want to help provide a safe space for kids to enjoy.  And I’m thinking of offering faith-based counseling someday; I’m not sure about that yet, but it’s definitely something I’m considering.  But I am pretty sure that this is what God wants me to do”.  I wish you could have seen the confidence and clarity in their eyes at that moment because it took my breath away.  I could have told this individual the same message about their future and their gifts a thousand times and it wouldn’t match the sense of God-given clarity they felt at that moment.  Now, trust me, I’ve worked with teens long enough to know that moments like this aren’t a guarantee of anything.  But here’s what I will say, a moment like that doesn’t happen if this individual hadn’t been actively involved in the life of a church where they’ve learned who they are,  whose they are, and they’ve had the opportunity to discover what they’re good and see that as a God-given vocation and purpose.

It is my hope and my prayer that for each child who walks through our doors, whether it be once a year at VBS or every single Sunday, we would keep at the forefront our call to teach and model for them who they are, whose they are, and help them discover what they’re good at it.

In Christ,

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