Earlier this week, I was talking with a Senior Pastor friend about how quickly time raced by in raising our children. He let me in on a powerful illustration tool he had implemented in his home and shared with his congregation as time marched along. When his son was born, he found a large clear vessel and purchased 6,574 marbles to put into it representing the number of days he had to invest, teach, encourage, discipline and be an example for his son before his eighteenth birthday. Each night, a marble was removed from the vessel, and I’m sure it was a reflection point prior to closing his eyes in prayer. 365 days multiplied by 18 years plus 4 bonus leap year days brings about the figure of six thousand, five hundred seventy-four marbles. When you break it down like that, we must maximize our marbles.
This quickened me, as part of the Pastoral Leadership of my church, that we absolutely need to understand and embrace this marble illustration. If we reach a child once a week in our church, on average, that gives us only 939 opportunities. As babies, the church nurseries are decorated and have all the developmental toys and activities to nurture them while in our care. Sunday School classes are interesting with Bible lessons, fun songs, activities and snacks. Then there’s what can be an awkward transition into Youth Group where the tweens aren’t kids (but may still act that way) and the teens aren’t adults (even though they present like they are). It is a tough age and that’s why, I’d dare to say, not too many people volunteer to help with youth groups. Those who are called to pastor the youth have a high calling. They’re the ones who, in supporting roles with the church families they serve, have witnessed to, shaped, molded, prayed for and loved Generation Z and now the Millennials through junior high and high school. Those years are full of challenges with hormones, peer pressure, clubs and sports disappointments and highs, shifting friends, bullying, academic pressures, etc. Yet, Youth Pastors are conducting the express train that never stops full of these young and impressionable passengers in need. We are asking ourselves now how to keep youth interested in church and I’d like to challenge us to up our game by being more present with our youth.
In order to set the tone for our youth to desire a personal relationship with Jesus and feel connected to Him and His church, we should be willing to reevaluate and dig into these ideas:
#1 Discipleship– this is a whole church mentality. Contrary to what this may have looked like in the past, let’s decide to take on the congregational Body of Christ role of intentionally walking alongside our youth by investing time and resources through mentoring, loving, encouraging and showing them what a life lived for Jesus looks like on a continual basis. They learn from us, and we also learn from their perspective and creativity.
#2 Embrace today– make it count. The marbles in the vessel are few in the scheme of it all. These young people are the Church of today and tomorrow. Let’s involve them in programs and projects outside of the normal “youth” activities so that their gifts and talents can be discerned and developed. We have to let them know that their involvement and participation in the church makes a difference and has an impact.
#3 Sincerity matters– we all know this is true. So why do we struggle with it? If you ask a young person how they are, maybe press in a bit when they answer “fine” as so many do. Things aren’t always fine, but that seems to be the most widely used and accepted answer. Children and youth are astute, even if they appear to not be paying attention. They see and hear more than we think, so let’s be real and commit to doing life together. Redirect your question from the typical, “How are you?” to a more engaging and genuine question like, “You look great in that sweater, is red your favorite color?”
#4 Show them grace- we were all their age once. Yes, young people are resilient and yes, life is still overwhelming. Look at what we’ve all encountered with covid- it was overwhelming and yet, we are determined to press through. Young people need to know that they will face adversity and they belong to God and He loves them. Our job is to be the hands and feet of Christ to serve, encourage, and shepherd them with grace on their personal spiritual journey.
By implementing these 4 points, we will develop lasting relationships with the next generation while always pointing them to Jesus. And, another fruit of it all will be that your Youth Pastor will feel the support and intention from the church body in a way like never before. It’s a full-circle win, so to speak. Crosswalk shares in 3 Ways to Encourage Youth Pastors and Leaders that we should, “give them time, your time, and most of all, your encouragement, so you can help them reach the younger generation for Christ.” If you want to know what successful churches are doing, I’d say they’re investing all they can in the next generation according to 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Hope these blogs geared for Pastors encourage your entire Pastoral team. Whether you’re a Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor, Youth Pastor, Teaching or Interim Pastor, we want to help you lead with best practices that are known and have proven beneficial for thousands of churches nationwide. Reminder, don’t miss any of our other Church Growth Resources that may help you, and you can easily receive our ministry blog posts straight to your inbox!
Dean is ACS Technologies’ VP of Corporate Operations. He is responsible for Information Technology and all campus facilities. Born and raised in South Carolina, He has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems Management. He serves on the board and in leadership for a few local non-profit organizations. His passions include helping others succeed.