On February 3-4, the New Zealand Baptist Union’s Assembly Council and ministry leaders met to consider the challenges of the next decade. Guests brought six superb presentations covering the areas of young people, the poor and disadvantaged, education, the family, multicultural issues, and business. The NZ Baptist will print articles from these presentations plus “state of the churches” presentations. We hope they will aid your own missional equipping and enterprise.
– Rodney Macann (National Leader)
By Johanna Vannathy
One of the biggest issues we are facing in our New Zealand churches is our inability to retain a high proportion of the youth who come through our doors. There are two main reasons: a lack of integration of youth into the wider body of the church, and a deficiency of deep discipleship.
Youth have a deep need for acceptance, belonging and community. Although they are the most connected generation through Facebook, Twitter, texting and Skype, they are also considered to be the loneliest generation.
Many of them enter our churches through youth ministries that are somewhat isolated from the wider body. Youth are also labeled “young” and “the future of the church.” These terms epitomise the mindset of many toward teenagers, in turn increasing the isolation they feel.
These labels are hard to shake and often continue into the late 20s. This has a real disconnect with the rest of the world where “young people” are entrusted with significant responsibilities. They are doctors, teachers, business leaders, lawyers and entrepreneurs.
If we want to see our youth growing in their faith and reaching their full potential in Christ, it is essential that youth are seen as the church of today, the body of Christ today. We need to equip them and release them to develop their spiritual gifts with no limitations. We have to empower them to discover their God-given ministry and we must integrate them into the church from childhood through to their last breath.
Then we will see a generation that rises up and embraces the Church as a whole. We will see a generation that is passionate about its local church, that has the vision of its church running through its veins. They will give over their lives to see our nation and the nations beyond reached through the body of Christ, his Church.
This has been my experience. When I was five years old, I was very clear about the fact that I was part of the body and that I had an important part to play. I knew that our vision was to be vibrant and contemporary. So one day in church, I decided that the service needed some enthusiasm. During worship I began to run around the centre group of chairs. A group of children joined me and we ran and ran our praise to God. I vividly remember my poor mother’s arms reaching out to stop me. All I understood at the time was that I was living out the vision.
From an early age, I was encouraged to discover my spiritual gifts and to join ministries. In my teen years I began setting up my own ministries – the wedding ministry, the building maintenance ministry, the babysitting ministry and so on. I eventually found my calling in youth ministry and I was given full permission to develop this ministry with total support and resourcing.
I am so passionate about youth ministry that I would lay down my life for the local church. Two years ago, my husband Bok and I could see that the youth ministry needed me to go part-time teaching to devote more voluntary time to the ministry. We are happy to give our lives and to take a cut in our finances to live out our calling. This comes back to the fact that our church integrated us into the whole body at an early age.
To see this become a reality for every single one of our youth in every single one of our churches, we must pour our heart and soul into creating change over the next decade.
I want to touch on five points that will make the difference:
1. We must deliberately help children and youth to discover their gifting and skills.
2. From there, we need to train and empower them in their areas of strength.
3. It is essential that we give youth the opportunity to take part in ministries existing in the church and to also set up new ministries they are gifted in and feel God calling them to. They will need our support, resourcing and prayers.
4. Our church structure and culture must allow for the involvement of youth at every level. We need to be ready to be reshaped as churches when new youth with fresh gifting and callings join our churches.
5. Our services must be designed with the input of youth and also with the presence of youth on our music teams, worship teams, door teams and announcement teams. This in itself sends a message to other teenagers that they are not only welcome but that they belong. A youth service alone will not meet this need.
The second reason youth are leaving our churches is the lack of deep discipleship. We must make the ground in our churches fertile for youth to grow in their relationship with God and in understanding their faith. There are five ingredients that will help to do this:
1. Youth pastors and leaders must model a growing relationship with Jesus. A group will only grow as far as their leader grows.
2. The curriculum that we deliver needs to be biblically grounded. It needs to ask the deeper questions. It needs to cultivate authentic community.
3. It is also important youth are given the opportunity to set spiritual goals and are kept accountable in regards to their progress by a small group of friends and their leaders. Follow up matters.
4. It is our responsibility to make sure youth understand their faith, the validity of the Bible and apologetics. The faith fall-out rate of university students is high and this is partly due to a lack of substance in their faith.
5. We need to make sure that the way we present our messages captivates youth and helps them to understand the gospel in our arts- and media-saturated world. It is important we involve them at this level as they are best able to reflect their youth culture in the arts, dance, drama, music, song and multimedia.
I would love to see the wide back door of our churches disappear. I can’t wait to see every teenager engaged in their church and living an authentic, growing relationship with Jesus.
If we master this, watch out world!
• Johanna is Youth Pastor at Hosanna Porirua Baptist Church.