Photo credit: “Bulletin Board” by chelmsfordpubliclibrary is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
By Alex Dye
She was 8 years old, chin up with eyes squinting, scrutinizing the faces on the bulletin board. Her gaze glanced across the names under each face and fell upon accompanying titles like “Church Council Chair” and “Worship Committee Chair” and “Trustee” and “Elder,” all designations that sounded significant and complicated and must have only been given to the most important people in the church.
As she stood lost in her thoughts, a shadow fell over her, and a man’s voice called out, “What are you looking at?”
“I’m looking at the important people in the church,” she replied simply, that word IMPORTANT hanging loftily in the air between them.
The man, her Sunday school teacher, looked at her in the eyes, and with seriousness on his face and gravity in his voice, he responded, “You are the most important person in the church because you are the future of our church.” The young girl took these words to heart. She began to see herself as an important part of this church that she heard so many times called a “body” and a “family.” She realized that was an organ, a limb that mattered, and a member that was crucial to the makeup of the whole.
Over the years, she engaged in the life of the congregation, learning what it meant to be a part of a Mennonite Church and the Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA. She served on two search committees, once as a teenager and once as a twenty-something, and joined her youth group on several mission trips as well as attending MC USA convention.
Upon returning to the church after college, she helped lead and teach the high school youth group that she was once a part of. She currently holds the position as her church’s young adult delegate for the Ohio Conference Annual Conference Assembly. Who knew that this brief conversation with those simple but meaningful few sentences would be a catalytic event for the young girl’s commitment to the church?
We adults know that youth are the future of the church; we say it often enough to one another. But do we realize that they are not only the FUTURE of the church, but they are the church NOW? And if we know this crucial bit of information, are we encouraging the youth that who they are now, not just who they will be, matters to the church? Are we offering opportunities for them to engage meaningfully in the life of the church, to learn how to lead, and to be mentored so that someday they could also have their face on a bulletin board with an “important” title? Because if we aren’t, it is unlikely that they will suddenly want to be involved once they are “old enough.”
I am refreshed by this story because the Sunday school teacher didn’t have to go to a weekend training, or implement some sort of complicated program, or read a book, or get a degree to learn that the vision for the church of the future needs to include the youth and young adults of today, and offering real and genuine encouragement to them can yield immense rewards.
So what is going on with the youth and young adults in your congregations? How are you encouraging them to take part in your churches? How are they being discipled into leadership? In what areas are your efforts bearing fruit?
The Youth and Young Adult Ministry Development Team wants to be a resource to those in the conference working with this vital population. But rather than give you articles on “How to do Youth and Young Adult Ministry” and the like, we think it would be infinitely more valuable to share stories from the trenches. What have been your successes? How have you learned from your failures? Where is God working now? Let’s together create a chorus of voices singing beautiful harmonies of how God has, is, can, and will work through the young people of our churches, the important people of our churches, the church of the NOW.
If you have a story that you would be willing to share with the Team to then be shared with the Conference, please send it to Alysa Short at firstname.lastname@example.org.