If I heard it once, I heard it a million times in the sermons of my adolescence: “The youth are the future of the church.” (Okay, that was an exaggeration. It was closer to thirty times…or maybe fifty…but certainly not a million. However, when you are 15 years old, all adult verbiage feels excessive.) Sitting in the front center section of our sanctuary with the rest of our youth group, I regularly ruminated on that sermonic phrase. Are we the future of the church? Our youth choir sang in most Sunday evening services. Charles and Richard regularly helped their dads collect the morning offering. Kenneth volunteered each Sunday to distribute orders of service at an entrance. Each year found us representing our church on mission tours, choir tours, and various other service projects in our community. We were always guilted—I mean, encouraged—to help in Vacation Bible School. Marilyn and Rita regularly volunteered in the nursery. I think you get the picture. It always sounded strange to hear our pastor say we were the future of the church. I felt we were pretty integrated, fairly important, and a necessary part of the present.
I am accustomed to seeing our youth in the front, center section of our church’s sanctuary during worship. Their presence in that place is a gift to the gathered community. It is a gift to me. When they are traveling—for retreat, mission or camp—there is an empty space in our pews that only they can fill. I see them serve in various areas of our church’s life. I watch them pull away in buses and vans to serve God’s larger world. I hear them ask questions, challenge doctrinal rigidity, and offer insights that are shaping our religious and social culture. I’ve seen them dig in the dirt, paint, pack, carry, hammer, wash, teach, sing and much more. This coming Sunday, March 13, is the Second Sunday of Lent and is also Youth Sunday. I’m looking forward to serving and leading alongside our youth. I’m looking forward to leaning into their words and learning from them. Our youth are not just the future of the church… they are a treasured part of our church’s present life and ministry. This Sunday, we will receive a small portion of all they have to offer. I will see you in worship.