If I were a pastor, I would make youth ministry the cutting edge of my church’s mission. There are a number of reasons why I would do this. I write today only about one, and it is a reason fueled by Paul’s words to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Instead, set an example for the believers” (1Timothy 4:12).
That’s what a growing number of young people are doing—setting an example the rest of us should be following….and….being looked down upon for doing so. I have watched as youth do their dead-level best to protest evil, only to be demeaned and caricatured for doing so. Two stories illustrate the point.
Not long after the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, student leaders who spoke and acted in favor of measures to prevent future shootings were said to be motivated more by a desire to skip school than to end gun violence. I remember thinking, “What kind of demented thinking does it take to produce that kind of backlash?” In the midst of their grief and fear, courageous young people literally took to the streets doing what they could to say, “Enough is enough” only to be ridiculed by some for doing so.
Similarly, Greta Thunberg has been targeted by obscurantists time and time again. The day after Time magazine named her its Person of the Year, none other than Donald Trump assailed the choice and in typical trumpian fashion made disparaging remarks about her. I could not believe my ears, but then, considering the source, I saw how small-mindedness can live even in the White House.
And again, this past week at the Davos economic summit, Steven Mnuchin demeaned Thunberg, telling her to go to college and learn what’s really going on. That from a Secretary of the Treasury whose economic expertise (after going to college) has made him a leader in the “Feed the Greed” system that has increased our national debt by a trillion dollars during his time in office, and further widened the gap between rich and poor in this nation.
Paul’s words to Timothy have rolled down the corridors of time into our congregations (and congresses) where older white males maintain their power, even to the point of disparaging those who have eyes to see our nakedness. The Church should be at the forefront encouraging young people to continue speaking and acting on behalf of the common good. Youth ministry should be the place where prophets are made, and where prophetic ministry is celebrated. Youth groups should be training grounds for nonviolent living and resistance to evil.
As an older adult, it is easier for me to see now that God provides us with a recurring window of opportunity to see and hear things in ways that impede us from doing so once we are sucked into communities and systems whose status quos and sacred cows “buy our souls” in the name of loyalty. That window of opportunity is youth and young adulthood. Paul commended it in Timothy, and the Church should be commending our young people, who still attend, and have not given up on institutional Christianity.
God provides each generation with an opportunity for humanity to make a fresh start. God gives us young people. We dare not squander the gift. Our calling is clear: we must not despise them because they are young, but rather rejoice as they set examples for those of us who are older and who too often have allowed the world to squeeze us into its mold.