Actually, this should be addressed to the Big “C” (universal) Church because the things I’m going to talk about occur in churches all over the country. The UMC is just where I’ve encountered them on a personal level. For the last 6-7 years, I’ve been a volunteer youth leader. Recently, due to circumstances not entirely out of my control, I’ve stepped down from that position. I made this decision for several reasons, not least of which was to spend more time with my daughters. Ever since I started got involved with the youth, I took seriously the idea that they were a part of my church family, that they were as much my children as my biological ones and I always did my best to treat them that way, sometimes to detriment of my girls. While the my youth kids have aggravated and irritated me, I’ve loved every minute and wouldn’t trade it for the world. The kids are amazing and they deserve the best we adults have to offer. But, they’re not getting it.
In my time as a youth leader, I’ve lost count of the adults that told me they appreciated what I was doing, but there was no way they’d do it. They told me the kids were to loud, didn’t show the proper respect, goofed off too much, etc. Whenever I heard that, it took all I had not yell “They’re your kids, damn it! If you don’t teach them these things, who will?” Getting adult help was always an issue. Numerous times, the youth director put out the call for adults to help supervise activities and the same people showed up each time. I went to several parent meetings set up to let folks know what’s going on and attendance for these meetings was always dismal. I only saw one where over 50% of the parents showed up. All of which makes me wonder, do we want a thriving youth ministry or do we just want to keep the kids occupied and out of your hair.
How many of us adults take a minute and think about how what we’re doing affects our young people? All too often, I’ve seen the youth ignored and forgotten. Until, of course, there was some service they could provide. Then, the praises came thick and furious. You think the kids don’t see these things? If you don’t, you’re vastly underestimating them.
Now, you might think I’m coming down too hard on you and maybe I am. Maybe it makes you mad that I’m saying these things. If that’s the case, I want you to look at why you feel that way. Is because I’m wrong? Or because what I’m saying hits a little too close to home The attitude seems to be that people this age aren’t interested in church, so expending our limited resources on them doesn’t make sense. Besides, the thinking goes, they’ll be back when they’re older. That’s possible, but what if we gave them a reason to stick around? What if we actually treated them like they were our children and got involved in their lives and their spiritual development? What if we took the time to show them that they matter just as much as the little ones everyone dotes on because they’re cute and haven’t grown into surly, sullen teenagers that ask uncomfortable questions? Maybe if we did that, our membership wouldn’t be fleeing like rats deserting a sinking ship.