Every-Generation Youth Ministry

G. Mark Sumpter
Wednesday, May 30th 2007
Jul/Aug 2003

One of my greatest privileges in working for reformation in the world of the historic Reformed faith has been to serve as a church janitor. I am a four-congregation veteran. In some way or other over the years, the janitorial supplies closet has served as my "pastor's study."

Janitorial duties in the church building contribute, in their own way, to the work of biblical reformation. For starters, church janitors see a lot of theology: partially chewed finger nails under the pew, scribbled notes left in a hymnal that passed between spouses about a 14-year-old daughter's attitude, the tell-tale sign of covenant kids hanging around the fellowship hall-red "church-punch" stains on the tile floor. Show me a solid church janitor and I will show you a growing theologian.

Janitors are servants. They serve the Lord by serving others so that ministry can take place. Of course, ministers are servants, too. In a context about the ministry of the gospel-a ministry characterized as foolishness before the watching world-the Apostle Paul writes, "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1, my emphasis).

We who are part of the church's older generations need to heed Scripture's exhortation that we be servants of all (see Gal. 5:13). We should take our cue from holy precedent that turns the wisdom of men on its proverbial head-"the older shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). In 1976, Duke University professor John Westerhoff, noting the growing absence of children and young people within the ranks of the professing church, sounded the alarm for a teaching ministry to our children and youth in his book Will Our Children Have Faith? Yet an even more poignant question is this, Will our faith have children? That is, are we, as reformational Christians, ready to embrace the biblical and theological principle that baptized children and youth help make up today's church and not merely tomorrow's church? And, in this light, do we recognize that they have a sanctified office, expressible in youth-appropriate ways, to help the church carry out her mandate to do the work of evangelism? Serving our young people calls for us to equip and deploy them in evangelistic ministry. But how should we lead them into this service?

The Need for Godly Models

It is common knowledge that the greatest way to teach is not simply through the dissemination of information but through role modeling. What has made the greatest impact on your life? My guess is some blend of words and example. When Paul urged Timothy to show godly resolve about his calling, he strengthened his son in the faith by reminding him of his own example (see 2 Tim. 3:10-11). Faithfully serving the rising generation includes providing role models for them that go beyond the requisite of giving wise counsel. Our church youth must see us in a lifestyle of prayerful and practical obedience regarding the lost world around us. Hospitality evangelism-reaching out to those around us through friendships and community involvement-is a great way for young people to catch a glimpse of us doing the work of evangelism.

The Importance of Training

It is much easier to talk the work of the evangelist than to do the work of an evangelist. Training young people in the skills of conversing about the central truths of the gospel means that we must prepare ourselves for testimony and witness through memorization of Scripture and mastery of Bible doctrine. It means assisting them to spot non-Christian assumptions about God, the creation, human beings, Christ, and so on. R. C. Sproul's two-part video series, Choosing My Religion, is a great resource here. When we train our young people in the Scriptures and church's doctrinal standards they become appropriately grounded in their faith and that makes them more ready to evangelize.

The Necessity of Practice

Keep in the mind the saying, "Practice makes us productive." Paul told Timothy to train himself for godliness (see 1 Tim. 4:7). The church must provide ways for families to practice evangelism. One local church sponsored a picnic for the community emergency medical services staff and their families, deploying teams of families to organize, prepare, serve, and conduct parts of the picnic. The effort involved the youth, as part of the church, to be the church in this evangelistic witness. For example, the church children made small gifts to give away to the children of the staff. Practice in evangelism could also mean that when a pastor asks a deacon to go calling at the hospital he also asks the deacon to bring along his 14-year-old son. Practice at evangelism requires that we move into ways of facilitating experience, of promoting give-and-take in Bible and doctrinal knowledge, and of evaluating personal abilities. When we do this with our young people, it treats them as part of today's church.

Being a church janitor has taught me some unconventional lessons about serving God's people. The "arrows" of the church-our children and young people-in the hands of faithful, servant-warriors-the older generation-can prepare those warriors to "speak with their enemies in the gate"(see Ps. 127:4). I once watched two adults team up with two young people as they carried out a call to elderly folks. In a sense, it was the young people who led the way. Why? Because they "connected" more effectively with the elderly than the adults did.

Fruitful witness went forth that afternoon. Once again, the wisdom of Scripture proved piercing: "a child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6). Will we humble ourselves and serve among our children and youth so that they might effectively and faithfully lead us? If and when we do so, we should keep in mind that God has made his church an every-generation people of God.

Wednesday, May 30th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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