Written by:
Chris Wilterdink

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Growing Young Series 6 of 6: Taking Jesus’ Message Seriously

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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Relationship is at the center of all Christian communities; a relationship with God through Christ. Relationships with fellow Christians, searchers, and outcasts…those familiar and unfamiliar alike. Social media has allowed these relationships to easily last beyond contact in the teenage years at church. I remain connected to many youth and family members whom I served through ministry at the local church. One of the gifts of enough time in ministry is watching youth grow and mature into adults. Upon finishing Growing Young, I reached out to several of my now-grown youth, to ask two questions:

1) What do you remember as most meaningful in your youth ministry experience?

2) What would have made your youth ministry experience more meaningful or lasting for your faith?

The answers to the first question, as you can imagine, were across the board. Many stories of laughter and service. A few stories that involved tears and deep emotions. Lots of conversation about friends who felt like family. The second question however had a much more related set of responses. Each of the people I spoke with said something along the lines of “I wish we went deeper. Not just skim the surface.” I think some of those responses have come with age, people now able to process and understand things on a different level than in their teen years. Yet, there is truth in their yearning as well. Often, our topics would touch current events and building base Biblical knowledge or theological concepts. However, because of constraints of time, space, and yes – even my leadership, many of my former youth now express a wish that they had taken and known Jesus’ message better during their teens. These reports corroborate the research reported in Growing Young.

There is a holy mystery that young people investigate as a part of their faith journey. That mystery is rooted in Jesus’ question to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20; “Who do you say that I am?” Youth must discover the answer to that question as they determine their own identity, belonging, and purpose in Christ. That question also requires that youth become familiar with the life and teachings of Jesus. Only through familiarity can someone begin to take Jesus’ message seriously. Taking Jesus and his teachings seriously, does not mean approaching faith dryly, without humor or creativity. On the contrary, it means helping youth know and experience what Jesus taught, and then helping them practice what he preached. Through those experiences youth will begin to seriously consider the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor.

Taking Jesus’ message seriously includes understanding, practice, reflection, and action. After all, Jesus would often call his Disciples and others to “Go and learn what this means.” A shout out to the youth of the Rocky Mountain Conference (Mountain Sky Episcopal Area), who have spent the 2016-17 school year seriously engaged with Matthew 25 and the concept of “Beloved Community.” They have been working diligently to understand and figure out ways to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger.

Questions for You

  • How do you create space for youth to interact and experience Jesus’ message?
  • Are there things Jesus said that are difficult to take seriously?
  • How do youth in your ministry express their love for God and their love for neighbor?