Why Youth Ministry Matters

I obviously didn’t preach yesterday… thanks to the wonderful leadership of our youth group! It is always a blessing to have them step up and lead worship. We definitely enjoyed hearing about the Veritas retreat they went on earlier this month. Youth events like these help build the church and make sure people of all ages feel connected. In fact, I responded to a “call to ministry” while at a weekend retreat with the Methodist church! They are definitely life-changing.

For the blog this week, I wanted to share a unique quote I once read. I have heard it said different ways by different pastors, but I believe the “original” source is from and author named Steve Rabey in his book Authentic Faith:

Christianity is never more than one generation away from extinction. This generation is falling through the cracks of Christendom and the modern church is sleep-walking their way through oblivion.

These are some challenging words to read. But I wholeheartedly believe it is the truth. Sometimes we think Christianity will continue on for generations to come. But I cannot belief on behalf of a congregation. A parent cannot belief for his or her child. A Sunday school teacher cannot make a room full of toddlers believe in Jesus.

That decision is up to each person. We cannot force anyone to adhere to the Christian faith. Likewise, there is always the “danger” that a church, denomination, or even Christianity itself will cease to be if we do not pass the faith along to the next generation.

Many times people will gripe about those who are younger. The young might not behave the same way older folks do. They might even have different values. If you base your views off of social media, you might come to the conclusion that Millennials and “Generation Z” are absolutely ruining our world.

Instead of looking down upon children and youth, why not realize that they too are a part of God’s family? Jesus taught on multiple occasions that the kingdom of God belongs to children. I imagine he shared that so that the “adults” or “older folks” would remember that everyone has a place in God’s family. Likewise, Christians of all ages have a duty to pass along the gospel message… especially to young folk. Youth ministry matters greatly for this reason. Through educating and forming our younger brothers and sisters, we spread God’s love across generational lines.

I personally think Concord does a wonderful job of sharing the message of Christ with younger members of our community. As your pastor, I’m sure that I’m biased. But I do see so much fruitfulness in this regard. We usually have babies in our nursery each Sunday, small kids in Sunday school, and a room full of youth. We value events like Christmas programs, VBS, and fundraisers. This Sunday was a great opportunity to witness our youth lead worship itself. I’ve never heard anyone complain about having children’s sermons on Sunday, and neither about hosting VBS or funding mission projects that benefit youth in our community in local schools, shelters, or Methodist Family Health.

That’s all fine and dandy… but there is still work to do!

Even though we might be doing a great job now, there is always room for improvement. A lot of the challenge is continuing to support our youngest brothers and sisters. As Concord’s youth age into adulthood, there will be even more people to teach about Jesus who might not even be born yet. The cycle repeats itself every time a family increases in size.

Some people might panic when they realize that Christianity is literally one generation away from extinction. All it takes is one generation where Christians stop teaching and reaching others. Tragically, many congregations struggle with the average age going up each year, until everyone quite literally dies off from old age. Many churches have tragically ceased operations and closed down.

Yet I personally see this challenging environment as an incredible opportunity. We are blessed to grow God’s family and have a front seat to what God is doing in the lives of youth. Our faith might be one generation away from nonexistence… but that means we have exciting work to do!

Five Reasons Why I Believe in the Church

Perhaps I’m biased as a pastor, but I believe church involvement is extremely important. Lots of other Christians would agree with me on this, too. When we show up to church, we have the opportunity to grow closer to God and learn from other believers.

Most Sundays we profess that we believe “in the holy catholic church” during the Apostles’ Creed. Catholic in this sense is not a denomination, but rather signifies the universal church. We don’t just believe in Concord, the Methodist church, or churches in America… we believe in the church all over the world!

Here’s a brief list of reasons why I believe in the church…

1. The church is all about worshipping God

Sometimes we do treat church attendance like a box to check off so we follow the rules. Sometimes we may think church is just a place to visit with close friends or family. Perhaps we view it as a concert where we sing our favorite songs. These misleading, limited views neglect the big picture. Church is first and foremost about worshipping God. Friendship and enjoyment can be nice, but these are never the primary purposes!

Most of our week is spent laboring in one way or another. Such work is biblical, where we do tend to our affairs in daily life. But God invites us to spend time worshipping him in the midst of all the busyness we may encounter. Regularly gathering together on Sunday gives us the precious opportunity to praise God. It is such a powerful experience to stop for a moment, remember it is not about us, and give God the glory. We thank God for life’s blessings. Perhaps most importantly, we praise who God is. Personally speaking, I find that my life makes a whole lot more sense if I am having regular worshipful encounters with God.

2. God speaks to us through the church

Similar to my point about worshipping God, going to church is a wonderful opportunity to communicate with God. Of course, Christians pray together on Sunday morning. God can also use music, scripture readings, sermons, and conversations to communicate to us. It is my hope that after attending church at Concord, people would feel a little bit closer to God, and build upon that feeling as the weeks and years progress.

We can experience God in many ways, from witnessing a beautiful sunset, reading a book, to even sitting in silence on your front porch. These can obviously be impactful experiences, but nothing compares to worshipping God in the context of a community of faith. Church gives us the important opportunity to hear from God together as a family.

3. God gave the world the church

Throughout the Old Testament, we read about God’s movement among humanity. God called people like Abram and his descendants to witness to their neighbors. It seems like with every passing chapter, God sought to increase the “reach” of Israel. Other people were to hopefully see how Israel lived, and in turn follow Yahweh.

Though there were countless patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets, it is worth noting that God did not chose to establish a worldly government to accomplish God’s purposes. Kingdoms did play a part in the Old Testament, but the climax of the biblical narrative comes a bit later. Instead, God gave the world Jesus Christ and his “bride” the church. This is how God solves the world’s problems. Through a relationship with Christ, Christians lift one another up and evangelize the world. God didn’t give us a political party, economic system, or even charismatic human leader… God gave us the church! I believe in the church because this unique community of believers was gifted to us by God. We ought to cherish those relationships as a God-given blessing.

4. The church is open to all

Some religions teach that one has to learn a unique language or move to a certain area in order to be a faithful follower. Christianity is so revolutionary because Christ meets us wherever we are. The bible can be translated to any language. We can worship in so many unique ways. We can follow God wherever we find ourselves. The church, when it lives up to it’s calling, is truly open to all. It is adaptable and eager to reach people in far off places (both geographically and socially!). God’s kingdom is open to everyone. In fact, God desires that no one would ever be left out, as we read about in 2 Peter 3:9 (“The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”).

I often marvel about how radically inclusive the church is called to be. We ought not care about someone’s skin color, language, country of origin, net worth, past baggage, or struggles. If you ask me, this is such a revolutionary concept in today’s world, given how prevalent racism, nationalism, and bigotry can be. We too often rush to divide ourselves and judge and exclude others. However, the church is inclusive. All human categories we come up with don’t matter… a fellow Christian is truly a brother or sister. To put it in Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we are all one in Christ. And even if someone is not a Christian, we ought to treat them as a potential sibling in God’s family! Indeed the church is open to all.

5. The church has an outward mission

It is so easy to be inwardly focused nowadays. We are tempted to solely look out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Sins like greed are frequently valued as positive traits. Many “good” things in life like friendship can quickly turn egotistical when we treat people as things to use for our personal benefit. We often struggle with being self-absorbed.

The true nature of the church is so different than any other worldly system. The church’s mission is to make disciples. Notice how this is not self-serving. It’s not about the color of the church carpet. Rather, it is about sharing the love of God with other people. The church’s outward mission is unlike anything humans could create on their own. Organizations, movements, structures, and governments exist to look out for one’s own interest. The church, on the other hand, seeks to love God and love neighbor.

Even though we should never be legalistic about attendance or think that simply showing up will result in deeper faith, coming to church allows you to participate in what God is doing. We have the biblical command to meet together with other believers. We are called to belong to one another.

What Do You Believe?

What does it mean to believe in something? Is belief something that goes on in our heads? We usually think that belief is all about a mental state. In fact, I’ve even heard from some people that Christianity doesn’t appeal to them because it is just too abstract!

As I mentioned during yesterday’s sermon, words like “faith” can sound very intellectual. “Believe” clearly falls into the category, too. We kind of have an idea of what it means, but it ends up sounding very theoretical and vague.

People can believe in the tooth fairy. They can also believe the Arkansas Razorbacks will go undefeated this upcoming football season. Are these kinds of belief the same that we find in the Christian faith? Surely faith in God is much deeper!

To go from being a seeker to becoming a believer is not an abstract step in Christianity. When we believe, that is a dynamic process with down-to-earth implications. In other words, it is far more important than believing in a fairy tale or sports team prediction.

The Greek word for belief is the same one used for faith, or pistis as I preached yesterday. It means to be convicted of the truth and to have confidence in something, so much so that one shows fidelity toward its. Pistis can also mean to be persuaded.

So in reality, belief and faith are very active sorts of words. I would argue that whatever goes on in your mind “internally” when you believe in God has a direct impact on your life. Believing in God causes you to behave and think differently. You obtain a new outlook on life. You are also led to pursue righteousness. You have a change of heart to reflect Godliness.

This idea is clearly found in the bible, too. Consider the famous “faith versus works” passage of James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Faith in God means we have a tangible difference in how we live. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our life will reflect the values of God’s kingdom. To paraphrase James, we are no longer just “all talk” but have the actions to back up our relationship with God!

Most Sunday mornings, we say the Apostles’ Creed aloud in worship. For centuries, Christians have practice this as a way to articulate what we literally believe. Hopefully these aren’t just words we recite. Hopefully we see them as having real-life significance…

  • “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”- Saying this part implies we believe God orders the world around us. We do not believe things happen according to chance. Rather, God is working to heal the cosmos, even through painful times.
  • “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…”– The “Jesus” part of the creed is the longest. We profess faith in Christ that he died for us and rose from the grave. Christ will also judge all creation. He offers us salvation. That certainly impacts how I chose to live today!
  • “I believe in the Holy Spirit”– Saying this implies that we are confident God is still moving in our world. We are not alone.
  • “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints”– We will talk more on this part later in the sermon series, but to believe in the church means we realize it is vital for our faith development.
  • “the forgiveness of sins”– If we believe in God’s forgiveness of us, surely we ought to believe in forgiving other people!
  • “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”– If we profess belief in an afterlife, this definitely will impact our living today! From avoiding materialism to sharing this good news with others, believing in resurrection and heaven definitely impact your daily life.

So with all that said, what do YOU believe? Does faith only stay inside your head? Or do you allow it to change your heart, actions, and words?

The Apostles’ Creed does a great job of summarizing the Christian faith. As we’ve seen today, it ought to impact life right here and now. I believe something special happens when we truly believe in God. We go from being a seeker, to becoming a believer, and that will change our entire life.