April 10, 2005
Pastor: Richard Pfeil
Reaching the Youth: Help or Hindrance?
Romans 3:23-24, Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 18:3-5
Worship is about holiness. Holiness means to set apart. So we set apart this time for God, to worship and adore his name, to pray and to listen to his Word. I always find that song to be very comforting until the last line- “you will soon be fitted for service above.” [Choir sang “Take Time to Be Holy –Martin] I want to know how soon we are talking about. I prefer to be suited for service below, here now and that is what we are going to be talking about for the next couple of months.
Have you ever felt like the skipper on Gilligan’s Island? One of my favorite series is Gilligan’s Island. The skipper always has this phrase- Why does it always happen to me? I thought of that this past week. As you know, I took some vacation, and on vacation I became ill and was in bed for four days with the flu. Now why couldn’t I do that during work time and get some time off? You know what I’m talking about? Then I go on study leave to sunny Florida, the only time we had off to go to the beach there was a monsoon. It rained a torrent. We also thought we had a nice hotel and I could relax in the nice hotel. There was a wonderful picture. I didn’t know it was a sample of what their hotels were like. The one I was in, the restaurant in the front was condemned and boarded up. When you entered the place it smelled of mildew and must. There was no pool because it was closed for renovations. There were no amenities. It was awful!
Does that have anything to do with the message? No, other than it’s good to laugh, and that’s where we ended the last time I was with you -on the spiritual discipline of celebration. It’s good to laugh. We don’t laugh enough as a culture. We have become so serious. We take everything so seriously. We need to laugh at ourselves. Laughter is healthy.
We are going to shift focus now. For the last three months, we have been talking about the spiritual disciplines, focusing on the interior of our lives, building up the interior self. Now we are going to look at God’s exterior work in our lives, which fits the series of the spiritual disciplines (or the means of grace or growing in our relationship with God spiritually) because the spiritual disciplines, or our experiences with God, are not an end in themselves.
In eastern religions it is the end in itself, the end of experience with God is to overcome and escape the material world. In Christianity it is quite the opposite, the purpose of experiencing an encounter with God is our interior lives are transformed - transformed for a purpose. Having become better people, we go back into the world to make it a better place because our lives have been changed and transformed by him. That is going to be our focus for the next three months or so -looking at things we can turn our attention towards. Having become better in experiencing God and continuing to do so through worship, prayer and meditation, we look for opportunities to make an impact, make a difference, in our community. It touches a very important human need that we all have - the need of experiencing significance, feeling that we made a contribution in this world. This series helps answer the question “Why am I here? Maybe that’s a question you have: What is God’s purpose for me? I think as we look at opportunities for ministry in our lives, it will help give us focus. I hope that in the next three months God will answer that question for you, that you will know exactly why you’re here, or why you’re still here.
I thought I would start with a focus on the youth today because this is the day we decided to dedicate the new youth ministry, All Access, and the VIP lounge (better known as the youth room downstairs in the Nurture Building). The text I chose is Mark 10 if you would turn there.
Now, if you are a young person, I apologize now for calling you children, some of you are older than children, but there is really no New Testament name for teenagers. They didn’t have teenagers. When you became 13 you became a man or became a woman. There wasn’t another category. As I was praying about what text to use this one jumped out at me and I felt that it had some good points for us. So don’t feel badly, if you are a young person, about being called children. Two reasons; one, most people envy you. You know, we are so funny as people. When we are young we want to grow up so quickly, but when we are older, we want to be young again. We do all kinds of things to stop the process of aging. Hope Stone says the only way to stop the process of aging is to die young and I am not sure I like that option either. I always had a fantasy as a child, the reason why I wanted to grow up -and maybe you can relate to this- the reason why I wanted to grow up was because when I grew older I could go to bed at the time that I wanted to. I could stay up late. And now that I am an adult, I can’t wait to go to bed (please, it’s a cherished thing for me). Another reason not to be disturbed by being called a child is when Jesus was asked the question, “Who is the greatest?” What did he do? The context for this passage in Mark 9:36 says he took a child and put them in their midst. The greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is to be like a little child, so don’t be ashamed of being called a child.
The other reflection I have on the context (always, before you read a passage look at its context), I never discovered this before: just before Jesus talks about children, he talks about divorce. I find that very interesting. It goes with a lot of studies. If you want to produce good healthy children, you need a mom and you need a dad. Now, having said that, I know we live in an imperfect flock. I know some of you are divorced and we are not here to slam you or put you down. As a matter of fact, we are here to build you up and to support you. We are going to talk about youth ministries and one of the best youth ministries or ministries to young people you can ever have is to be a mentor to a son or daughter who doesn’t have a mom or who doesn’t have a dad. That may be God’s calling on your life. Look within the church to single moms and single dads who need some support for their son or for their daughter. I encourage you to be that support person in ministry. Children without a mom or dad will always look for a substitute, and maybe God has called you to be that substitute.
Now to get to the text itself, Mark 10:13-16. “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. And he took the children in his arms and he put his hands on them and he blessed them.”
Let’s pray. (Prayer)
Some things jumped out to me as I was reading this passage. One is this human tendency for adult church people to want their children hushed. Did you notice the disciples’ response to the children’s approach to Jesus? They kind of wanted them to hush, and they wanted to get them out of the room. It reminds me of a story- I know you’ve probably heard it a thousand times- about Angie who was six and her little brother who was four. If you know little boys, if you were a little boy, in church you have all this energy and you squirm, you’re restless. I am telling you it’s impossible to stay still in church for an hour or longer. That was his problem. He was squirming around, moving around, and he turns around and looks at people in the back. His church shoes hit against the pews and make noise; he scribbles on the pew cards; he’s talking during the service and he begins to sing after awhile. He gets distracted again, moves around and makes a lot of noise. Finally his sister had enough of it and she said, “You’ve got to be quiet. You can’t talk in church.” The little boy said, “Why, who’s going to stop me?” She points over to Herb Stone, actually someone like him, (go ahead, turn around and look at Herb). She said, “See those men back there? They’re hushers, and if you do not be quiet they will come up and hush you.”
I know we have tendencies as adults to want to hush children. How many of you were in church as a child? Do you relate to that? It’s such a common experience. I see even from my own son, my own children. It always makes me wonder, gosh are we doing this right as a church? Why do we make children sit through long services that they get nothing out of? Maybe there is a better approach in ministry to this issue of children. A lot of churches have something like “Promised Land” during church, or that “We Believe” series in which they try to give children a worship experience in a language and style that they understand, that they relate to, so that they get something out of church.
Now the other struggle of the debate is: Isn’t it good to have children see their parents worship, model what worship is? I think there is value in that as well. The question is at what age. It’s again another opportunity for ministry to children, thinking about whether they’re getting anything, whether we’re wasting their time, and their parents are so distracted they can’t get anything out of the service. Maybe there is a better way of doing youth ministry when it comes to small children during the worship service. Just food for thought. When it comes to ministering to small children, the sense of hushing children, of discounting their spiritual needs - I notice in the text that it angers God. The NIV said that Jesus was indignant. The New Living Translation says that Jesus was displeased. Actually the word literally means that Jesus felt a pang of grief - that’s just not what I am about. That’s not how I want children to be treated. It says He blessed the children, and one of the things that he did to bless them was to say, “Let the children come to me.”
If you want to bless children, if you want to minister to children, including young people, young adults, we need to bring them to the Savior. Bring them to Christ. Note in the text it says children in general, it doesn’t say our children, it says children. So often a lot of churches view youth ministries as ministry to our children. But that is not what ministry is about, ministry includes all children.
An interesting truth about discipleship and about church for adults- when they interviewed pastors and members of churches and asked them, “What’s the purpose of the church?”, 80 percent of members said it’s for the care of the people who are part of the church. 80 percent of the pastors said, “No, it’s for the care of the people who are outside the church. It’s for reaching the lost.” It’s interesting why we have conflict then in churches. What’s the answer? The answer is not either/or, it’s both/and. We call the church, as a mission, to care for the people that we have, and also to always reach out to those who need to know him, to reach the lost. That is what Christ did. That is a good purpose for youth ministry. And that’s why I really love the title for our youth ministry - All Access. Access for all - all young people. I love their mission statement. Let me read it to you, at least part of it. “VIP student ministries are sparking a fire in the lives of young people with the truth of Jesus Christ.” It didn’t say our young people, but it says young people. God wants to reach not just our young, but all young people, and connect them to Christ. If you are going to do that you need to provide a place, where kids will want to come. Place is important isn’t it?
That is why today there’s an open house. We encourage you to go down and look at the VIP [Victory in Progress] Lounge and the new youth ministry rooms. View it and get a sense for it. You will discover that it will look very different to you. You may ask this: Why did we spend all that money? What was wrong with the place like it was before? I’ve been here a long time, kids have come and gone, and why did we do that? It doesn’t seem like we should waste the effort. To answer the question we need to understand how important place is. Is place important? To illustrate that I decided to take a match, light it and drop it. [Don’t panic! He didn’t really drop it!] Why? Because this place is important to you, isn’t it? Place is important. It’s important because you produced it, you made it, it’s yours - and that’s the importance. That is why we spent a lot of effort to create a place that is meaningful to young people, a place where they would be proud to bring their friends.
What is meaningful for one generation is not meaningful to another generation and I will prove this. Do you drive the same car that your mom and dad did? I don’t care what age you are, when you drove your first car, was your car exactly like your mom and dad’s car? Do you drive a car exactly like the young people, or is there a difference? Why is there a difference? Because it’s ours; we are different, and we like things that we particularly like. How about hairstyle? Is your hairstyle different from that of young people? Is the color of your hair different? Are your clothes different? Why? Because your clothes are meaningful to you. What is meaningful to you is not necessarily meaningful to others.
You want to show the difference between the ages. I’ll tell you the distinguishing difference. It’s the number of piercings. It will date you. I mean 40 and older you may have one piercing on the earlobes. 30-40 you might have 2 or 3 on the ears. 20-30, you’ve got some on the ears and maybe one in your belly button. If you are under 20 instead of 4 or 5 you may have 45 –in places you can’t see and you don’t want to know about either. So even piercing makes a difference, shows a difference. We are just different and it’s important to respect those differences and provide a place that is meaningful.
What are some other things we can do to bring our young people to Jesus? God may give you an opportunity to directly communicate your life or your faith to young people. It may be your grandchildren. You may have grandchildren whose parents, your kids, never come to church. The ministry of grandparents is powerful. I am the result of the ministry of a grandparent who showed me the love of God and attracted me back to the church. I encourage you. One great ministry to young people is the ministry of the grandparent who reaches in to be part of your grandchildren’s lives and is a model and example, extending them warmth and love and grace. It may be a kid that you decided to tutor, tutoring ministry is a wonderful way of reaching young people and giving a part of your life. In that relationship your impact may be expressing and sharing your faith with them. It may be kids in your neighborhood, or it may be kids of your children’s friends, it maybe your kids’ friends.
Another great ministry to youth is a ministry of home. A lot of young people do not have what I would call home anymore. What a wonderful thing if on your street you can open your home. If you are going to open your home to young people, you need the necessary things. You need lots of snacks, and (in your language) you need lots of soda; you need fun things. If you have a pool table or if you have a pool, or you have a large screen TV, video games, it’s a wonderful environment to bring kids into. At first they are just going to hang out there, but in the process of hanging out, you model the warmth and grace of God - a wonderful ministry. You know, God may be calling you even if you don’t have kids, or if your kids are now grown. Even if there are no kids in your community to open your home to, being involved in our youth ministry may be what God calls you to do.
When I was in Florida, I will tell you of one of the great blessings I experienced. You know Florida is largely a retirement community - everywhere I went I saw older members - members that Proverbs says have that ‘crown of glory.’ You know what the ‘crown of glory’ is? Gray hair. I saw these wonderful gray-haired members, greeting and ushering and being at ministry booths providing food and snacks with the warmth and grace of God just glowing in their face. I tell you it was a blessing. If you are an older member, I can’t tell you how important you are to the church. I can’t tell you what an impact it would make on young people if you were the ones who greeted them into the youth ministry; if you were the ones who provided the snacks; if you were the ones who were doing some of the driving; if you were the ones to open your home to a progressive dinner, maybe having the kids come over. To have them see that, in your life, Christ is enough, that for you Christ is sufficient. That is a wonderful way of modeling and impacting and touching kids lives. I remember as a young person being so impressed when I saw older members being interested in me. Do not discount your impact in young people’s lives. Though you may think they want nothing to do with you, it’s absolutely quite opposite. If in your life you have a sense of golden years not being so golden, and you feel as though society has put you out to pasture, come in out of the pasture and let God use you to impact and make a difference in people’s lives. And one area that God may be calling you to right now is in impacting young people’s lives.
There are a lot of things that can be said about ministering to youth and these are just some of the ideas. Is it necessary, is all our efforts, all our money, redoing the youth room, hiring a director of student ministries, is it worth it? Is it really worth all the effort? I guess the answer to the question is are your kids worth it? Probably one thing that concerns me as a pastor is how few of our young people stay in the faith after they leave home or leave the church. I’m not sure what we are doing wrong; maybe we are not doing anything wrong. Maybe that is the process of maturity, but I can’t help but wonder why we aren’t intentionally making disciples. That’s our mission to make disciples and it says make disciples of everyone: children, adults, teenagers, and young people. Something is wrong. Most of your children, (most of your children and you know it), once they leave home do not attend church or stay a part of it, and why? We have to ask that brutal question and then ask ourselves, what can we do differently so that we intentionally make disciples of our children, so that we pass on that faith and heritage that we found, that has blessed our lives?
I tell you one of the greatest ministries of adults to children is the ministry of parents. Parents, you can send your kids to youth group, you can send your kids to church and Sunday school, but if it isn’t modeled in your home, if you are not talking about it over the breakfast table and the dinner table …..
I have done a lot of weddings, and I interview your kids during marriage preparation. Rarely have I ever encountered a single family, even church family, that talks about their faith in the home. There is no greater impact you can make than talking to your kids, not preachy-wise, but casually when the opportunity arises, about various aspects of your faith. I encourage you to do that. You cannot do that unless you are connected to Christ yourself. Maybe that’s where you need to begin. Where is Christ in your life? What is the seriousness, what is the depth of your commitment to him? If your children wanted to know what a Christian was could they look at you as the model and example? Now this is a tough part of the message and again I know we live in a broken world. In scripture a lot of great prophets’ children up and left the faith. Was it a problem with the prophet? I don’t think so. It’s that darn thing about human free will. I think we can do better. It’s an issue for us to pray about.
Heavenly Father, you have entrusted us with young people, and this church more tham the average Presbyterian Church is blessed with them. We praise you for that. You have entrusted us with them and their friends and we pray that we will be found faithful. Lord, help us first to consider what we can do. What you are calling us to do in the area of ministry to youth? Maybe you are calling us to do one of those things that were mentioned or maybe there is an idea that you have already sown in someone here. What can we do to impact the lives of young people. Lord, help us not to leave this place and forget to respond and act upon your calling in our lives. To experience a full life of knowing you makes a difference, and so we pray for parents that you will encourage them. You will support them, you will help us to build into their lives so that they will become those models and teachers of the children that they need to be. So that we can kind of proof our children from the world so that when they grow up they have the foundation of Christ in their lives that will make a difference and will spare them from the hard knocks of life. We pray for our young people. Put your hand of protection around them. And I pray that you will help us develop an intentional ministry that will move them along in their lives to the point where they may claim you for themselves, and lay the foundation of their lives upon your Word, and discover your calling upon their lives and their purpose, to discover their ministry and their mission, build that type of ministry we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen