Youth are NOT the Future of the Church

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We all love a good “up and coming” story. 

I can remember watching Steph Curry dominate the 2008 NCAA Tournament. As a 2nd year college student, Curry lead the 10th seeded Davidson to victories over both #2 Georgetown and #3 Wisconsin as he completely destroyed my March Madness bracket. That year, Curry set the NCAA record for most three-pointers in a season with 159. Commentators, analysts, and NBA scouts were claiming that Curry was the “real deal” and could be the NBA’s next big thing. 

They were right. 

Curry is currently dominating the NBA in scoring, and has broken virtually every scoring record the NBA has, including three-pointers, three-point %, and most single season wins. His shot is unguardable, his range impossible, and his team unstoppable. Some are calling him the best shooter of all time. They’re probably right.  

Looking back, we can see that Curry was indeed the “future of the NBA.” 

Often times, this is exactly how we see Youth Ministry. We look and scout for potential “church all-stars” when youth start to get into Jr. high, High school, and college. We have an expectation that these kids will do amazing things someday. Like NBA scouts, we say things like, “This kid has so much potential,” or “I can’t wait to see what this kid does in the future.” 

I get it. But I hate it. 

It always drives me crazy when I hear people say, “Youth are the future of the church.” I understand what they mean. People want to rightfully acknowledge that someday the youth in our churches will grow up to become our Elders, deacons, and leaders, while doing great things for Jesus. 

The problem is, that idea implies that youth are not doing great things for Jesus right now – which just isn’t true. 

Right now, I know of youth who have put their faith in the finished work of Christ in their place for their sins, and who regularly bring their friends to our gatherings. I know of youth who hold Bible studies in their public schools. I know of youth who faithfully share the gospel with classmates and teammates. I know of youth who play on sports teams, write songs, sit in classrooms, teach children, run soundboards, lead worship, and create movies with the goal of seeing people around them understand who Jesus is and what He’s done for them. 

These kids are doing unbelievable things for Jesus, right now! We have the opportunity to help our youth see that they are not just the future of the church, but a real and vital part of the church right now. Youth are not potential members, or disposable parts of the body of Christ. They can play an absolutely critical role in the ministry of the church – if we let them. 

Jesus understood this. It is interesting to read through the Gospels and look at who Jesus invested most of His early ministry in. He didn’t seek out prominent pastors, worship leaders, or wealthy businessmen. He wasn’t after the most popular, most attractive, or the most gifted members of church culture either. Instead, Jesus gathered several young fishermen, a greedy publican, a zealous and blood-thirsty anti-government gang member, and a few lowly construction workers to apprentice Him as He taught them how to faithfully live out the Kingdom of God. In fact, tradition tells us that the Apostle Peter was most likely the only disciple over the age of twenty! 

I may be ultra- biased, but I like to think that if Jesus was going to hand-pick a group of twelve people from my church to do ministry with for the next three years, His first stop would have been to the youth group. 

Jesus recruited an unlikely group of (mostly) teenage disciples, and called them to follow Him for three years. He taught them about the Kingdom, gave them power to perform miracles, and eventually commissioned them to preach the Good News of the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). I believe there’s a very important lesson there. 

Would Peter go on to preach the gospel and see over 3,000 come to a saving faith in Jesus? Yes. Would Paul eventually train and commission two young men to plant and pastor churches in pluralistic and urban cities? Absolutely. Would Jesus do unbelievable things through young men and women throughout the New Testament and beyond? Of course. But, if we only see youth as “potential-leaders” or “future- leaders” of the church, we are missing the point. They are a unique part of the church in the here and now. They are leaders in the church today

May we help our youth understand that they are part of the church right now. Let’s help them see that Jesus is using them to see God’s Kingdom come to Earth as it is in Heaven. Let’s help them believe that are not simply the “future” leaders of the church, but leaders of the church today.  

Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever. 

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

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