by Andrea Vigil-Ruiz
“It takes a village to raise a child.” This is a quote that I’ve heard in different contexts: amongst people who serve in Children’s Ministry, the church coming together to provide meals to parents of a newborn, and in informal ministry capacities where people meet together outside the church to help care for one another’s children. In all of these different contexts, the child is usually young in age, probably from about 0 to 5 years old. However, have you considered that this quote can also apply to people who are of youth age? It may sound strange that we would think of 6th-12th graders as children who need a village, but I’d like to challenge your thoughts in this area and how important of a role the church body plays in ministering to our youth aged attendees.
To help you understand why this is such an important topic for me, I’d like to share a little bit of my own experience in youth group. When I started attending the youth group at my grandma’s church, I was not a believer. My mom would drop me off at church on Fridays, we’d sing worship songs, hear teaching from Scripture, and then a married couple that was not officially on youth staff would drive me home. Looking back, I appreciate the youth staff’s faithfulness in showing up every Friday, ready to interact with me and my friends. I also really appreciate the couple that drove me home and talked to me about church and what it means to be a Christian because even though they weren’t officially on staff, they still went out of their way to take me home every single Friday. Those Friday nights in youth group were usually the times when I got to talk to people outside of my age group. It was actually encouraging to know that people who were older and weren’t in the same life stage as I am would take the time to talk to me.
Then on Sundays, it was quite different. Usually the people that I talked to and interacted with on Sundays were my friends from youth group and maybe some of my grandma’s friends (my broken Cantonese only got me so far). I have to admit, there were times when I actually felt excluded from the church. I know I wasn’t a believer back then, but not having people outside of youth group talk to me caused me to feel a bit uncomfortable. It was as if I didn’t fit in. I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming or pointing fingers at anyone. I am just sharing my personal experience in youth group to hopefully help you see why I’m writing what I’m writing.
From my experience in being a part of youth group and now being on youth staff, I have come to see that youth groups can be made up of a wide spectrum of people: people who proclaim themselves to be Christian and are learning what that means in their young life, people who have grown up in the church and are not sure where they stand in relation to God, people who admit they’re not believers, people who say they want to believe but are not sure how to, and everything else in between. If you really think about the spectrum of attendees in youth group, you’ll realize that the youth are basically just like anyone else who is attending the church, whether they’re learning how to grow in their faith or trying to figure out whether they believe in Christ or not.
Regardless of what exact category a youth fits into (because one can never fit neatly in a box, right?), the church’s body of believers has a calling. Our church’s mission statement is “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ is calling all believers to go and make disciples of all nations, and that also includes the youth here in San Diego. As a body of believers, it is crucial then that the church upholds a consistent testimony in showing those who are younger in the faith and those who do not have Christ why the gospel and ultimately Jesus is needed. This is the task that God has commanded us to do as believers.
A couple weekends ago, our church had a retreat with Pastor Tim Carns on the Mission-Minded Church. There were so many great takeaway points, but Friday night’s sermon about “A Mission-Minded God” and Sunday morning’s sermon about “A Mission-Minded Heart” stand out. In “A Mission-Minded God,” Pastor Carns referenced Matthew 28:18-20 and how we are to make disciples of Christ. But in making disciples, it doesn’t just involve evangelizing people (although that is a very important starting point). This passage also speaks to how if we want to make disciples, we as believers are to teach others to observe all that God has commanded, which means sharing what it means to live out the Christian life daily. Our youth are in a time of their lives where they are figuring out their spiritual lives. It is even more important that the church come alongside them as they go through this stage. Having other people outside of the youth staff share about how the gospel is needed and what it means to be a Christian can be beneficial because the youth will be able to see how the same message can affect so many different lives.
Then, in Sunday’s sermon “A Mission-Minded Heart,” Pastor Carns took a look at the story of Jonah. Pastor Carns pointed out that when God asks Jonah the last question in the book in Jonah 4:11, we are to ask ourselves the same question. If God was able to show mercy to the 120,000 in Nineveh, shouldn’t we be able and willing to show that same mercy to others who need Christ? This question is basically getting down to this: Do we genuinely care for others and their salvation? “Others” also includes the youth in our church.
As believers, are we also considering there are people who are always watching us, especially if we say we follow Christ? In Colossians 4:5-6, Paul gives great advice to the church in Colossae in regards to the watchfulness of unbelievers when he writes, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Are we making the most of every opportunity we have in terms of interacting with the youth, especially knowing that some are young in their faith or do not know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? The youth may be young, but they do notice things around them and they are indeed watching.
To sum up, youth aged church attendees are also in search of Christ and what the gospel means in their lives. Although the youth staff is designated to work with the youth, I’d like to encourage the church body to think of and pray for the youth and their salvation. Also, whenever a youth is nearby, please don’t hesitate to introduce yourself, talk to them, ask them how they’re doing, or even have conversations related to spiritual matters with them. After all, it takes a village to raise a child … even if the child is in middle school or high school.