We love a good “up and coming” story.
I can remember watching Steph Curry dominate the 2008 NCAA Tournament. As a 2nd year university 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 3-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 3-pt % as his team sits at a league-leading 53-5. His shot is unguardable, his range impossible, and his team unstoppable. Some are calling him the best shooter of all-time. 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 upper high school, college, and university, with the expectation that they will do amazing things someday when they get older. 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 be 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 are regularly bringing their friends to our gatherings. I know of youth who are holding Bible studies in their public schools. I know of youth who are faithfully sharing 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. They are doing unbelievable things for Jesus, right now! The church needs to help our youth see that they are not just the future of the church, but part of the church right now. Youth are not potential members or disposable parts of the body of Christ. They play an absolutely vital role in the ministry of the local church.
Jesus understood this. It is interesting to read through the Gospels and look at who Jesus invested most of His early ministry in. It wasn’t prominent pastors, worship leaders, or wealthy businessmen. It wasn’t the most popular, most attractive, or the most gifted members of church culture. Instead, Jesus gathered several young fishermen, a greedy publican, a zealous 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 20! I (definitely am) may be ultra-biased, but I like to think that if Jesus was going to hand-pick a group of 12 people from Westside Church to do ministry with in the lower mainland for the next 3 years, His first stop would have been Westside Youth.
Jesus recruited a group of (mostly) teenage disciples, and called them to follow Him for 3 years. He taught them about the Kingdom, gave them power to do 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 1v8). Jesus founded his church on the shoulders of a few uneducated, untrained, wild-card teenagers. 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 part of the church right now. They are leaders in the church right now.
Let’s be like Jesus. Let’s help our youth understand that they are part of the church right now. They can serve, equip, and encourage the body just as much as anyone else can. Let’s help them see that they do not have to wait until they are grown-up to have an influence on people.
Let’s stop saying the Youth are the “future of the church.”
Joseph Peterson is the director of Youth Ministry at Westside Church. He is married to Nicole.