To mark International Youth Day on Sunday (12 August), Kaitlyn Hyde, who works with her husband Daniel in the Youth Ministry Team for the US-based Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Albany, reflects on the importance of Youth Ministry.
I cannot speak for God, for all the Anglican Communion, or even all members of my diocese. I am, however, honoured to take this opportunity to speak as a member of the Body of Christ on what I have discovered about the importance of youth ministry.
I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché “What would Jesus do?” I believe we should ask ourselves that very question when it comes to ministering to our youth. When Jesus chose his disciples, who did he call? He hand-selected and entrusted a group of young men that today we would probably think of as “teenagers” – certainly twenty-somethings at most. If that is who Jesus had on his team, then that is who I want on mine.
And Jesus doesn’t just start with teenagers; he speaks even to the youngest of children. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus calls the “little children” to come to Him. No one is too young to come to Christ.
Our diocese recently held its annual convention, where we focused on the theme of Hebrews 13:8. This verse tells us that Jesus is unchanging forever, and while it spoke to the 700 adults in attendance, I feel that the 100 youth present were blown away by this message.
The teenagers were especially moved to hear and know that God loves them, no matter what. While we live in a world that is constantly changing and uncertain, Jesus and His love are constant.
Throughout our lives, we will always lose people and relationships, whether it’s something as tragic as death, divorce, or incarceration – or something as simple as moving away or relationships fading. Children and teenagers need to hear the message of God’s love for them, a love that will never abandon them, and that is a truth that will prepare them for the rest of their lives.
We all want to belong somewhere, to have a purpose. If we don’t find that in God, we will look for it everywhere else, and search for answers in the wrong places. The world offers many alternatives.
The youth that we work with struggle to find self-worth in a variety of ways: comments on their selfies, relationships or cliques, sports and clubs; sometimes even in drugs. But looking only to these worldly answers leaves our youth lacking. The world will let them down, like it does to all of us.
Our youth want more. We all want more. Matthew 7: 24-27 tells us that we must hear and live God’s truth, so that we will not fall, no matter what storms come into our lives. Youth ministry is giving our children and teens that truth and the strength that comes with it.
We also must note that youth ministry isn’t just essential to the development of youth. It is essential for the life of the Church, for the whole Body of Christ. Just because a child is a junior high school student (roughly 12 years old), that doesn’t make them a “junior” Christian.
As Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians, we are all different but together are essential to the whole body. Our youth ask poignant questions, they have new ideas and energy. When empowered, they are daring-dreamers and make risky moves to create positive differences in their world. Moreover, they are some of our biggest evangelists.
Personally, being around youth keeps me charged and motivated to make a difference. They are critical to my own walk of faith, keeping me focused on the way of Jesus, beyond mere tradition. While it is important that we pass on our traditions to the next generation, we should also have open hearts, willing to receive what God has to offer through our youth.
They remind me that God is alive, moving and acting in the world today. It takes me out of my pew and into my community. From one sister in Christ, I hope that you also discover the joy and the wisdom that the youth in your community have to offer.