Monday, June 26, 2017

Growing Young

Last week in our morning worship service, we had a group of teens and their parents come forward. We prayed for them as they headed off to FMYC, the Free Methodist Youth Conference that happens for high schoolers every 3 years. As that was occurring, I was reminded of my own experience at that conference, back when I was their age. 

FMYC (then IYC) crew, 1994
24 of us from MAFMC made the trek that year, including the brave chaperones who made our attendance possible: Joe Patton, Jeff and Pam Wilson, Brownie Davis and Larry and Kara Roberson.

One impactful moment for me in the formation of my faith took place in the arena during a large group session. The speaker had us all pause and pray out loud in groups of three. I appreciated something new about God that day, hearing hundreds of voices praying to Him. I was struck with how powerful He must be to hear so many prayers, also knowing that those of us gathered in that room represented a mere fraction of believers around the world whose prayers He was also hearing at the same time. Mind boggling! It made me feel small, but in a good way, knowing what an awesome God we serve.

In retrospect, I am so thankful for those busy adults who took time off of work to take an awkward group of teens to Colorado for a conference. I’m also thankful for Pam, who took the time to get to know me and several other girls better that year by leading a Bible study and spending some extra time with us. She was our friend, and someone we looked up to. Those moments helped shape my life and decision making at a crucial time.

Why do I share this story with you? Our Board Of Administration went on a retreat earlier this spring to do some long term planning. One result was to develop a group to look at how as a church we can better reach the millennial generation. Some of us are reading a book titled Growing Young, a compilation of research by Fuller Youth Institute that has studied churches that are successfully reaching the next generation for Christ. (Learn more about their research here.)

Growing Young book by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin

They’re finding that ALL generations in these churches are stronger as a result. Empathizing, or feeling with, young people is one of the key components they’ve identified for helping churches “grow young”. I know it made a difference in my faith journey when a Christian farther down the path of life took time to understand and listen to me. I believe it is even more important for adults in the church to do today than it was in the 1990’s.

I don’t have time in this moment to bowl you over with statistics, but know that young people today (those ages 15-29) are facing a longer season of adolescence and exploration than past generations. 25 feels like the new 15, and 15 often seems like the new 25. Their journey has both an earlier starting line as the world is forcing them to take on mature issues at younger ages, and a later finish line with typical young adult benchmarks being delayed. Omnipresent technology has become a new challenge for all generations.

Church, I know that we want to love the young people in our midst and in the world around us. Now don’t worry, the bus left yesterday for Colorado, so I’m not up here to recruit chaperones for FMYC. What I want to do today is challenge you to think about a young person or persons in your life that you might pray for, encourage and engage in conversation from time to time- even if it’s just in the hallway here at church. However, in order to feel with them, we need to understand them better.

To help equip you, I want to share a good, free resource that is e-mailed out every Friday to subscribers. It’s called The Culture Translator. It’s a put out by a creative ministry called AXIS, and provides weekly insight into how pop culture, technology, and media are influencing students while equipping parents and other caring adults to start biblically based conversations. They bring up topics that will be on the minds of teens, but are probably off the average adult's radar.

The Culture Translator logo

Although this newsletter is written to parents, I think it is a great resource for anyone who wants to understand young people better. I’ve included a copy of last week’s Culture Translator in the bulletin- it’s on the yellow sheet.  One of the topics is an app called Yellow. Do you know about it? I didn’t!

Like me, you might be thankful for Christian adults who befriended you (in real life!) in your teens and twenties. To those of us that are not quite so young anymore, I pray that we too will be motivated to empathize with and encourage the next generation as they explore matters of faith.

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