Many in the church have asked about our plans and goals for Sparrows, Sunday School, and Youth Ministry. As members from a number of backgrounds, we have had a wide range of experiences with youth ministry; some good, some bad, all with baggage. Many have strong ideas of what youth ministry is not, but it is a little harder to come back and state positively what it should be. Hopefully, this article will move us at least a few steps in that direction, and prove helpful for those with children in or approaching RYF and any in the church who want to know more about our various ministries. Our goal for our children – as in our goals for the entire church regardless of age - is to disciple toward ever-growing, Christ-like maturity. Admittedly, Christian maturity is a moving target, one of those constantly unfolding objectives we can never exhaust. The more we grow in it, the farther we realize is left to go. Where do our children and students fit into all of this?
Bridging the Gap
Our children belong to our households and they live under our care, but this will not always be so. At some point, they will need to learn to live in and as the church outside of our homes. In reality, from the day our children are born, they are moving from our covenant household to their own. They progressively try on and grow into new pieces of adulthood: feeding and dressing, forming relationships outside of our family, determining schedules, taking on and fulfilling responsibilities, and eventually living on their own. And so, it is in the church; from our Sparrows class training them in the practices of gathered worship to youth navigating the pressures and decisions of pre-adulthood, we are ministering to our children by bridging the gap between covenant households: ours to theirs.
These are not disjointed phases with neat and clean starts and stops; months and years bleed from one to the next with discernible, but overlapping shifts in needs and abilities. So, let’s picture the various ministries to our children and students as lengthening strides across a single bridge. It is our hope that the different ministry venues and emphases for our Sparrows, Rock Badgers, Lions, and Youth prepare and naturally lead children into fuller and fuller participation in the church, and that this will lead them naturally to connect and serve in local a local church when they leave our homes for college or whatever life has for them beyond our nests. We pray that this will each of these will progressively move them toward a lifetime of committed, joyful, and growing discipleship throughout adulthood in the Church.
The Current Shape of Our Ministries
Let’s work backward from our stated goals of lifelong, faithful and joyful discipleship within the Church. By the time our students are finishing High School and (often) moving away for school or work, we hope that they will find their rest and identity Christ with an integrated understanding of Christian faith and everyday life. We want them firmly rooted in Christ with self-aware wisdom and discernment. This means they will need to have assorted platforms for discussion, teaching, and fellowship. When our children are younger we feed them answers and teach with simplicity, but as they grow, they need – and rightly take on – greater nuance and complexity in discussion. We want 16-, 17-, and 18-year olds who are considering, weighing and asking good questions of their own relationships, experiences, and the wider world through the lens of the Christ’s gospel, but we don’t throw them in the deep end day one of Sparrows…we spend years together as a church family, week in and week out giving a little more breadth, pushing them to pull back a little more from the simple answers we started with to read, contemplate, and interpret Scripture with greater skill and devotion, learning to pray and interact more and more with the community of our church outside of their age bracket.
Life & Doctrine We intend to cultivate maturity and discernment, so biblical instruction and sound doctrine necessarily sit at the core of our concern, but they don’t sit there alone. Admittedly, this process takes years, and our goal is not to graduate junior academics. Our students should not see this as teaching as theory separated from the life of the church, but as a tool enabling them to interact more deeply with private, family, and corporate worship.
Biblical and theological instruction will be one focus in this process, but the gospel is more than information and life in the church requires more than knowledge. Not only will they need right doctrinal answers, they will need to learn to ask good questions of their experience. They will need to be able to hammer out solid answers. Our students will need to grow up strong in their doctrine and vigilant in their practice of sanctification. This means learning the practice and necessity of real community, confession, and repentance. All of these things are essential not just for their private exercise, but for times when they will be required to call others along in them as well. So, while we want to have fun when we are together, our time, activities, and meals are not intended to attract and entertain. They afford us regular time spent together during which our students can get to know each other and their older sisters and brothers in the faith better. Knowing one another ought to make more substantial community more natural and accessible in coming years.
If asked, how would we briefly explain what we’re trying to do? In short, we are aiming at maturity by means of discipleship in reliance on the grace God alone grants. Specifically, when discipling our children and students, we consider much of our task in terms of growth and preparation. We are growing them in the gospel and preparing them to live outside of our direct oversight and care. On their way, we are committed to training them to be the church: to grow and live as Christ’s church even when they are not under our shepherding as parents or elders. May the Lord work through, beyond, and - when necessary - in spite of us to raise our children as his worshippers.