by Brent Camilleri, Associate Pastor – Deep Run East Mennonite Church
I am filled with hope any time I find myself in a room full of those who care deeply about the lives of young people and their voice in the church today. And so, I was feeling especially hopeful on Saturday November 2 as I attended Michele Hershberger’s seminar on youth ministry in a post-Christian era entitled “100 Inches of Rain.” Michele began by telling the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. Rebuilt in 1996, the bridge was an engineering feat. However, in 1998 Hurricane Mitch brought 100 inches of rain to Honduras in a period of just a few days. When the storm passed the Choluteca Bridge was still standing strong but the river had shifted course and no longer ran beneath the bridge, rendering it useless. In many ways this is how church ministry and, in particular, youth ministry feels today. Something has shifted, and the programs and approaches that felt successful two decades ago are no longer effective.
And yet, Michele reminded us that this cultural shift isn’t cause for fear, but a challenge that can and should force us to adapt to the new flow of the river. Youth ministry is still vitally important. In fact the church needs its young people to lead today, not ten years down the road. God is in our youth right now, and the church is more resilient and effective when we minister WITH our youth, and not to them. To facilitate this type of ministry that works alongside our youth today, Michele Hershberger pointed out Four Conversions that the church needs to experience.
The first conversion is that we see youth differently. This means viewing them not as “Christians in training” but as fully integrated and vital parts of our communities. A 13-year-old 8th grader might be able to express truths about faith in a more effective way than I ever could. The second conversion that Hershberger highlighted is the need for us to see church differently. This means coming to terms with the fact that the church is not a building, it is US! As such, any time we gather, whether in a coffee shop or on a street corner, the church is there, making disciples who make more disciples…no building necessary. The third conversion that we need to undergo as we minister to youth in our post-Christian context is to see ourselves differently. Each of us is called to a mission field, no matter our age and no matter our profession. Plugged into Jesus, who is our source, we become the “wires” that carry the current of Christ with us everywhere we go. This is to be our primary calling as we follow Jesus and everything else should take a back seat! Perhaps it is a challenging call, but that is more than OK. Our young people are itching for a challenge, something that shows them just how real and important following Jesus is. And truthfully, we could all use a little more challenge in our faith. Michele brought our time to a close by highlighting the final conversion that we need, which is to see our success differently. She reminded us that this is God’s mission, not something that we own. And God invites ALL of us to make disciples, whether we are 12 or 42 or 92. Adults and young people are on this journey of faith together, and we need each other now more than ever as we work out how to faithfully follow Jesus.