Whenever a congregation gathers to look ahead and contemplate its future, you can be sure that questions about the youth will be raised: Where are they? How can we keep them? We have all likely heard—and possibly have spoken—these concerns in various forms.
These are important matters and the church does well to keep them alive. We would also do well to move this question past the rhetorical stage and actually explore some satisfying responses.
I know that our adult concern is sincere and I know that youth also long for connection. I have sometimes felt as though I am standing in the gap between young and old, wishing I could say the magic word or push the magic button that would instil this realization into our collective understanding and build a bridge that would eliminate the gap.
I celebrate with delight the many contributions from our youth that I witness and experience. This has given my work ongoing energy and has kept me believing in its importance. I continue to be committed to the pursuit of cultivating within our youth a love for the church.
There are two invaluable gifts that we can offer when passing on our passion for the church to our younger generations:
- We can offer the readiness to enter into relationships. Like anyone else, a young person will value the showing of respectful and sincere interest. This must be interest that extends beyond social exchanges and that holds the promise of growth, both in trust and in constancy. Young people have a particular intuitive ability to sense authenticity in adults. While it can be helpful to be somewhat informed of the cultural dynamics that youth are exposed to, this type of knowledge is very secondary to an honest and pure interest in them as individuals.
- We can offer an openness to change and to imagine new possibilities. Demonstration that there exists the willingness, at any age, to learn, accommodate and be shaped, is a powerful example and inspiration. Over the years I have observed many changes in trends among youth in the church and in the way youth work is approached. These will be healthier when there is thoughtful collaboration between generations, particularly if there is encouragement from adults to take risks and try new things.
I urge you to offer these simple yet profound gifts to the young people around you and give yourself to the sacred vocation of being a voice and advocate for them.
My hope is for a church that is defined by deep and meaningful relationships that transcend generational obstacles, and weave a brand of unity that rises above structures and programs to embrace us all.
Anna Rehan is Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s area church youth minister.