“How do we more young people involved in our church?”. In our Asian culture, we don’t have the best theology of transition between generations. I’ve been asked questions similar to the one at the start of the letter in one form or another ever since I’ve joined in full-time pastoral ministry. In my first church, I served the English Service where our oldest member was in their 30’s, most of my congregation was in their 20’s or younger, and mobilising them was going to determine whether or not we grow or stagnate. In those formative years of my early ministry, I have two reflections on how churches can better empower the next generation to flourish into the pillars of the church; reflections that I’ve seen to be relevant in the various roles and Asian churches that I’ve had the privilege of serving.
1. Give them a seat on the table. One of the most common mistakes churches make -but actually come from the bests intentions - is that we often give our next generation ‘small tasks’ to achieve before entrusting them with decision making in areas that have real stakes. That idea in itself makes sense in a vacuum, but forgets the context our younger members are in. In contemporary society, new ideas and innovation are at a premium, and is vital to the grow of many industries, whether in technology, business strategy or the not-for-profit sector. If we only allow our next-generation to opportunities to ‘serve the table’ rather than having a ‘seat on the table’, our most gifted and passionate will either be given opportunities elsewhere to express their God given talents or we will build disciples that lack the experience to make effective decisions.
Young doctors need years of practice, young soccer stars need minutes on the pitch, young preachers need hundreds of hours of preaching experience and young leaders need opportunities to build their confidence to lead.
2. A culture of feedback and safety when failing. The reason why young leaders aren’t given opportunities often boils down to our fear of how failure may affect the church or the young leaders themselves (mind you, in a church like ours, ‘young’ might look like someone in their 30’s, so they can handle a bit of failure already). What we forget is that failure is sometimes the tool that God uses to most effectively build humility, character and skills. It also gives the wiser, more experienced members of the church to engage in feedback and discipleship. Failure, rather than being a danger, is actually often the catalyst for reflection and growth. Think back to your biggest seasons of growth, were they not when you felt like you could learn from your mistakes?
My first ten sermons in my old church were by my and anyone’s estimation, a blatant theft of mother earth’s oxygen. One of the pieces of feedback I was given by a congregation member was, ‘thanks to your sermon, I now know that need for me to read the bible for myself!’. I could study, but I didn’t understand how to communicate or explain scripture in a formational way. But that season was also when one of the ministers who had taken me under his wing would sit down with me after every sermon and give me points on how to improve. It was only by that culture of feedback that I grew enough in my confidence to speak at prison fellowship camps, Easter conventions and to other churches around Victoria.
Conclusion: Scripture is filled with moments of gracious transition between the older generations to the younger ones. If we want to grow our next generation into not just pillars of the church, but of society, we need to give them a seat on the table and opportunity to grow through failure. Don’t look down on them because of their youth, but let them set an example in speech, conduct, love faith and purity.
“我們如何讓更多的年輕人參與我們的教會？”。在我們的亞洲文化中，我們不善於將我們知道的神學傳給下一代。自從我投入全職牧養事奉以來，我一直被以不同方式地問及類似於上面標題的問題。在我事奉的第一個教會，我所事奉的英語堂中最年長的成員是 30 多歲，我的大部分會眾都是 20 多歲或更年輕的，如何動員他們將決定我們是成長還是停滯不前。在我早期事奉的那些年裡，我對教會如何更好地裝備下一代成長為教會的支柱有兩方面的領會；我在有幸事奉的不同角色和亞洲教會當中得到這些相關的領會。