“The Youth Are the Future!”
It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before in one iteration or another, but it’s one of which I grow more and more convinced every day. If you were to ask me why I am so passionate about youth, that would be my answer.
I’ve spent the past few several years engaged in supporting youth in one way or another, and just a few weeks ago, I applied to be a Community Youth Supervisor with the City of Toronto. Doing so encouraged me to think back on my experience working with youth, and to consider how I see God working through my passion.
The second part of that reflection is especially important to be because, not only are youth the future in a general sense; they are also the future of the Church. As one who was saved as a youth, I know this firsthand. The young people around us can be such powerful forces for change and reformation. The question that faces people like me—those who spend their life serving and encouraging youth—is how to show Christ in a way that fits their context. An inner-city, government-run youth hub is not a church, but that doesn’t mean that the Spirit can’t get through the doors.
A few hours before I interviewed for the Community Youth Supervisor position, I visited the youth hub where I had spent last year’s summer months. On my co-op from George Brown College, I had been placed there to work with the youth; it’s also where I really started getting to know my girlfriend, Kamal, so it’s sufficed to say that the space holds good memories for me.
I was returning just to visit, primarily to see one specific youth. When he saw me through the door, his face brightened (as did mine presumably). He wrapped me in a hug—which means a lot as I’m not much of a hugger—and I could tell how happy he was to see me. It was honestly amazing.
When I’d worked with him the year previous, he hadn’t been shy about his affection, often calling me ‘brother.’ Yet for some reason, this far removed, the embrace meant so much more. It was a physical testimony to the relationship we’d been able to build, even in my short time working with him.
If you read the last post (or should I say series), which detailed my experiences of worship this year at the Serpent River first nation, you’ll know how important I find relationships to be when it comes to ministry. Jesus build a ministry out of relationship building, so that’s how I chose to engage these kids.
Consider for instance Jesus’ ministry to Matthew (himself probably not much older than 16 or 18), which is recorded in the gospel book that bears his name. Matthew started out as a tax collector, one of the most despised individuals in first century Jewish culture. Seeing him at his post, Jesus asked Matthew to follow him—to come and see what he was doing.
When Matthew first accepted Jesus’ offer to follow him, he probably didn’t expect he’d be one of the most important messengers of the Good News that the world has ever known, nor that he’d be remembered 2000 years later. But as he walked beside Jesus through his ministry, change happened.
Not long after we read about Jesus’ call to Matthew, we see the two of them eating at Matthew’s house, surrounded by many other “tax collectors and sinners,” which the Jewish officials are not too jazzed about. This is where Jesus famously says that “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” but for our interest right now it’s more important what he is doing than what he is saying.
He is being with these people—unlike the religious leaders who would maybe see the sinful, the oppressed, and the downtrodden at a distance—in the street or God-forbid in the temple—Jesus seeks them out and spends time with them.
Jesus often took the time to speak, eat with, and pour into the small group of disciples with whom he spent the most time. It’s Jesus’ teachings that tell us what God looks like, but it is his relationships—his compassion, patience, care, and unconditional love to the disciples, those around him, and even to us—that show us.
Likewise, we can minister through relationships. I’m not gonna say it’s easy to form a strong, healthy, and Christlike relationship with a youth within the bounds of a structured state-not-church environment, but we can certainly be a source of unconditional love that they so dearly need and struggle to find elsewhere. God is bigger than any one moment, season, or relationship, and he cares for these youth more than you or I ever could. It’s our job to love them just as Christ loves us: vulnerably, with an active understanding (i.e. praying continually) that God is the source of any power that we may steward.
I got that job, by the way—the Community Youth Supervisor position. I thought I’d flubbed the interview, despite the reassurance I’d received not too long before, but I got a call back the next day, and before long I was chosen. I mention this to say that this reflection is just as much a reminder for myself. While I work in a church as well, this job will find me in an environment where the name of Jesus isn’t always so welcome. But in spite of that (or maybe because of it), I’m excited.
Just as the sick need a doctor the most, God’s saving power is most evident in my weakness. I have seen firsthand the ways that God’s power has extended beyond my power, my reach, and my vision, and whether I will see any seeds I plant in this job harvested, I am confident in the God of relationships. He who begins a good work will carry it on to completion, whether I am there to see it or not.