We were talking at home the other day about how, in many ways, to raise a family and rear children in the way of love, welcome, and commitment to justice is to participate in the faithful resistance to empire. When we say, “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD,” (Joshua 24:15) we are declaring our commitment to a counter-narrative to those of hatred and oppression that have been given a renewed platform by those in positions of power. When we read Scripture and pray at table or bedside, the stories we choose and the content of our prayers reinforces to our children what it means to be a people who follow Jesus in such a time as this.
The same is true for those who serve in varied forms of children and youth ministry. In every age, to include our own, children and youth ministry is critical and subversive discipleship work. This work moves beyond Bible trivia, church membership programs, sporadic mission blitzes, and the handing down of abstract doctrinal statements into the craniums of young people. Instead, this work aims to equip young people for a counter-movement of love and generosity, forgiveness and welcome, justice and commitment to God’s preferential option for the poor and oppressed.
Children and youth ministry is not about the preparation of future leaders in the church, although partially true, but strives to empower change agents in the here and now. This ministry is about joining them in their efforts to embody the gospel in the places they have discerned most pressing. Children and youth ministry is about nurturing the prophetic imaginations of Jesus' youngest disciples as we trust the Spirit’s movement in and through them.
As social media feeds are flooded with chalkboard #backtoschool photos (we posted our own), my prayers are with those who serve in various capacities of children and youth ministries. I pray for mentors, teachers, listeners, counselors, and facilitators of conversations able to spark small and large expressions of faithful resistance. I pray for school administrators, faculty members, and coaches who worship in the pews on Sunday and walk into school campuses on Monday. I pray for Sunday School teachers, choir directors, and ministers and youth directors. I pray for weekend retreats, before and after-school programs, and fellowship gatherings that cross all lines of division based on race, class, language, and religious tradition. I pray that in each and every way adult disciples walk alongside children and youth, that they would do so aware of the significance of their call. I pray the church would equip all for their vocation, too.
Even more, I pray for the children and youth.
I pray they would know they have been called for such a time as this.
I pray they would know God’s love is not based on the best or worst thing they have done, but rooted in the very image they were stamped with before they could even take a breath or speak a word.
I pray they would know they are loved to love and blessed to be a blessing.
I pray they would feel empowered by adults to resist evil as an extension of their baptism whenever they feel their most vulnerable neighbors are being exploited by either church or state.
I pray they would experience the church as a place where their questions about the intersection of faith and public life are welcomed as much as their neighbor whom they invited to the mid-week event.
I pray the Bible and church history would come alive to them as they learn of the great cloud of witnesses who participated in the resistance against systemic injustices, even those perpetuated by religious institutions and traditions.
I pray they know the world can and will be better because of the contributions they make, even as they lead us closer to the day when God once and for makes everything new and right again.
Every day, as I move through the car line at drop off, I pray these prayers for my children and yours. It is one way I commit to the resistance that is the gospel, especially as we send our children back to school.
"However we may be justified in wagging our heads over modern youth's fantastic drive for freedom, it is certain that our final attitude cannot be surprise and opposition; the youth movement of the present time in all its phases is directed against authority for its own sake, and whoever desires to be an educator today must...stand in principle upon the side of our younger people”
---Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 292