Do you remember your teenage years? If so, then this may seem counter-intuitive. Why would the church have needed someone like myself between the ages of 13 and 19? If you were anything like me as a teenager, you might be asking the same question.
What place do teens have in the church? What could you have contributed to your community as a middle school or high school student? In fact, as I remember of myself... probably not too much. In ninth grade, the Pastor Search Committee asked me to serve as the youth group representative to hire our Lead Pastor, who is still serving in that position. During our six month stint together, I said about 12 words. It was a fun experience. I learned a lot listening to the adult discussion. I added it to my college application. And I enjoyed the pizza dinners that we ate together before the meetings.
But is that all? Are our students merely token players in the life of our faith communities... placed merely on committees in order to fulfill a by-law that 'all members of the church must be represented?'
Adolescents, Teenagers, and Emerging Adults - fulfill a key role in the corporate life of every community, especially the Church. How? This slice of demographic offers an unbridled array of idealism, energy and time, and... dare I say it... naivety! I want to assert that these traits propel the life of a community forward.
Teenagers are idealistic. They see life without boundaries. They pursue perfection and dreams, and believe that the impossible is possible. Most are not yet tainted by the consequences of poor decisions. Teens are dreamers, and they crave to see their dreams become reality. It is why they love "Made," "Extreme Makeover," and Pixar movies. Combined with their imagination, they can push a community beyond the scope of its own identity into new and undiscovered realms.
Teenagers have lots of time and seemingly boundless energy. Let's face it: many adults don't. Most teenagers aren't married, don't have kids, and have not yet committed to full-time jobs. Moreover, a healthy teenager possesses the strength and endurance of several average adults. A few months ago, I attended a camp with about a dozen middle school students. Their boundless energy and enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me. This kind of energy, time, excitement, and endurance calls forth from our communities a kind of passion with which we also ought to live together.
Teenagers are naive. And this is a good thing. They think they know everything - and with each passing generation, they seem to know more. But truly, they are innocent. They are not yet affected by the unfortunate consequences of our poor decisions. Furthermore, they have insights and ideas that are fresh. Their observations about life and faith probe into the hidden, often unspoken issues of our community, even if their ideas counter the current direction and vision of the community. And the Church needs to listen to them. Teenagers often highlight undercurrents that those entrenched in the system cannot see.
All said, the Church needs their voice. Sure, teens are not fully developed or experienced, but most teenagers have profound thoughts that need to be heard. They don't have all of the answers... they don't have many answers. And they should not be in positions of leadership, teaching, and vision casting - even a teenager would probably admit that. BUT, they have a place at the table - not as a representative - but as a contributing member of the church, offering their idealistic imagination, their seamlessly unending time and energy, and their innocence.
QUESTION: How has your church utilized these traits in teenagers? What have they contributed to your community?