“David, if churches have a vibrant youth and young adult ministry, where are they going to grow into if there is no church to grow into?” I was having lunch with the former President of the Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr Lim Teck Peng when he posed this question. Dr Lim’s concern was that if a church was dying spiritually, then the next generation will either have no church to grow into or will not be properly discipled to grow deep in the Lord. His challenge to me was to be forward thinking, to look beyond the lens of a youth pastor. I need to see myself first and foremost as a pastor to the church before I think about the youth ministry. I must confess that there were times I was so locked into the youth and young adult ministry that my vision became narrow or small. This is a real danger for the church – we may lose sight of what really matters. When we lose sight of the bigger picture, we tend to become inward looking. We might start entertaining the thought that “it is time for me to retire from serving in church”, “let others do the worrying” or even “my spiritual stagnancy should not affect others”.
These are but a few thoughts which typify what I would call the “leaving it to others” mentality. We often think that the young people are the future of the church and sub-consciously move into “spiritual and service retirement” mode. However, we forget that our young people not only require mentoring from us, they are also watching us. As the age-old saying goes “more is caught than taught”. By the time we realize the urgency, most of us are scrambling to make changes to grow our young people. This is what I call the “leaving it too late” effect and before long, we struggle with the “leaving effect” of the young people. Little wonder that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey warned that “Christianity is just a generation away from extinction”. Reverend Edmund Chan wrote in his book, A Certain
Kind, that “what this generation neglects, the next generation rejects”.
So what can be done then? I dialogued with young people from various churches, both big and small in terms of congregational size. They said that the reason they would stay on was because they saw the spiritual “aliveness” in their church. It was not the programs they witnessed but the spiritual passion that owed out of an intimate walk with God. They want to see if our “spiritual thermometer” matches what we teach them in Sunday School. They want to experience the spiritual vibrancy and relevance of scriptures. They wish to be part of a church that is living out the life worthy of the calling we received (Ephesians 4:1). They want to be part of the church that makes an impact as distinct as salt in our society (and not let society impact the nature and calling of the church!) They see it in worship services, in ministry, in relationships and at home. They see the “life to the abundance” that Jesus talked about. Let’s not leave it to others or leave it too late. We can learn from our past and start making a paradigm shift for our present to impact the future because nothing is wasted in God’s economy. The church can do our part, learn from what we did not do and start “leaving a legacy” behind for the next generation just as 2 Timothy 2:2 reminds us. Perhaps we need a paradigm shift in our interpretation of what “legacy” means as well. We need to see that the young people are not just “the future of the church” but that the current church is the future of the young as well. We need to see the “now” of the church impact the “future” of the church. Let revival begin with us so that we can pass it on to the next generation.