Aug 14th: What will Youth Ministry Look Like in the Future?, with Tyler McQuilkin.
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Aug 14th: What will Youth Ministry Look Like in the Future?, with Tyler McQuilkin.
Our scripture today comes from one Samuel, chapter three, and it reads now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days. Days visions were not widespread. At that time, Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.
Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel. And he said, here I am. And he ran to Eli and said, Here I am, for you called me. But he said, I did not call.
Lie down again. So he went and lay down. The Lord called again. Samuel. Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, Here I am, for you called me.
But he said, I did not call my son. Lie down again. Now, Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time, and he got up and went to Eli and said, here I am, for you called me. Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.
Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, Go lie down. And if he calls you, you shall say, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. So Samuel went and lay down in his peace. Now the Lord came and stood there calling us before Samuel. Samuel and Samuel said, Speak, for your servant is listening.
Then I’m going to pause here from the scripture reading and just give a quick summary here. Samuel comes before the Lord, and God gives Samuel a message of all, saying that he is going to do a new thing in Israel, as well as some not great news for Eli’s house. And then Samuel goes back to bed. And now we’re here in the next morning where it says Samuel lay there until morning. Then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord.
Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli, but Eli called Samuel and said, samuel, my son, he said, Here I am. Eli said, what was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you. And more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.
So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to Him.
For those of you who don’t know me yet, my name is Tyler and I am the new youth pastor here. And since our Summer Preaching series is on questions, it makes sense that my first sermon here will address the question what will youth ministry look like in the future? I think this is such an important question for us to consider as a church and a question that so many churches should consider so they can help future generations feel welcome in the church by working to create an environment that not only welcomes youth, but actually gives youth places to learn, teach, and be in relationship with other generations of the church. I imagine many of you have an idea of what youth ministry should look like based on your experience with youth ministry in your past. Maybe back when you were in middle school or high school.
You were part of a church with a thriving youth ministry that had fun games and crazy skits that made the church an enjoyable place for you to be a part of. Maybe for others you had a meaningful experience, spiritual experience at a camp or retreat where you first heard and felt the love of God and the good news of the gospel from this camp. Maybe you left and joined a church community where you could continue to practice and cultivate your faith. And others here maybe felt a strong sense of community in a youth group or a church that allowed you to ask and wrestle with questions about God and what following Jesus looks like. This community might not have been as high energy as the other ones with crazy games and skits.
And maybe you never had the life changing experience like some people had at a camp, but instead it was a community where you felt like you belonged and you were safe to engage in these conversations that allowed your faith to begin to grow. I hope that for those of you who have had a youth group experience similar to one of the ones I mentioned, you are excited about the potential for the future of youth ministry so that other young people might have a similar experience. And now others of you maybe didn’t have as positive of a youth group experience, which might raise some skepticism about youth ministry and if it’s actually valuable and important to the church at all. It’s possible that some people maybe felt excluded because they were asking hard questions that challenged beliefs that were typically never challenged. Maybe your curiosity was shut down or explained away quickly by a youth leader in the church without allowing for any kind of struggle or wrestling with the questions.
Or maybe some of you just didn’t feel like the community and relationships you had in youth ministry were genuine, which caused the experience in youth group to be more challenging and feel more like an obligation than something you actually wanted to invest time in. Unfortunately, negative experiences in youth ministry have happened to a lot of people in the church and continue to happen for many young people today. And lastly, others might not have any direct experience in youth ministry at all. Maybe you have some indirect experience by seeing your kids, grandkids or friends grow up in a youth ministry. And not all churches and communities can have a youth ministry.
So that is completely understandable as well, with some of us having positive experiences in youth ministry, while others have negative experiences and some have no experience at all. I think it’s fair to say that we all have a different lens in which we view youth ministry, and all those are valuable and helpful for us and myself to learn from. What I want to do here, though, is cast a bit of a vision of what I think and hope youth ministry could look like for the future of our church. The passage from First Samuel can be a great way for us to consider how the church can be a place to help us wonder what youth ministry might look like in the future. Now for a quick refresher.
Samuel is the young person in the story. The text refers to him as the boy indicating his youth. Samuel is under the care of the priest Eli, and the text says that Eli’s eyesight is going dim, which is intended to indicate Eli being much older in age. Here we have two generations represented, and the way they interact with each other can be a useful tool for casting a vision of youth ministry. The first half of this passage tells the story of Samuel’s struggle to understand God’s call on his life.
Three times in the middle of the night, Samuel hears his name called. He believes the voice calling him belongs to Eli, the priest. So the first two times, he runs to Eli responding to the call. The first time this happens, eli tells him that he didn’t call and just to go back to sleep. The second time that Samuel hears his name being called, he again believes that it is Eli calling him.
So he again goes to tell Eli. Eli tells him to just go back to sleep. But the third time, he goes to Eli again, and this time the text says that Eli quote perceived the Lord was calling him. So he tells Samuel to go back to bed. And when God calls him again to say that, Samuel should say, speak, Lord, your servant is listening.
Samuel returns to his bed and again hears God calling him. He follows Eli’s instructions, which leads to God coming before Samuel and speaking to him about all that God is going to do, all the new things that God is going to do in Israel, and all that he is going to do to the house of Eli. After God delivers this news to Samuel the next morning, samuel tells Eli all that God told him during the night. So the first thing we can learn from this passage on what youth ministry can look like is the mutual dependence Eli and Samuel have on each other. Despite their belonging to different generations, eli’s experience and wisdom is able to point Samuel toward God.
Without Eli, who knows if Samuel would have ever known that it was God calling him. After several attempts to correctly discern who was calling him. Samuel is redirected to listen for the voice of God by his elder Eli, and he needs Eli’s guidance for this to happen. Eli is not just taking a guess, hoping Samuel will leave him alone. Eli is able to take his wisdom and experience as a priest and servant of God to help the younger Samuel recognize God and listen to God’s word.
After Eli’s direction to Samuel to help him see that it was God calling him, samuel responds to the call. He is met by God and is told that God is doing something new in Israel and that Eli’s house is going to be judged. The next morning, Samuel tells Eli all that God said to him because he was able to hear and discern the word of God when Eli no longer could. Here, the text shows a role reversal between Eli and Samuel. Now the young Samuel is given the chance to teach his elder Eli, and Eli learns more about God in the process.
Because the younger Samuel has been entrusted to carry this message by God. In this role reversal, Eli is now dependent on the young Samuel to see and know what God is doing in the world. So in the future, I hope we can try to emulate this kind of multigenerational youth ministry as a church, rather than seeing young people as people that just need to be taught or kind of pushed to the side. I wonder what it might look like for us to share spaces together as equals, where older generations can teach and speak wisdom to the younger generations, while also allowing young generations to teach and discern what God might do to older generations as well. So my first thought on what youth ministry could look like in the future involves different generations coming together to listen to God’s word and to help each other recognize our blind spots so we can better see and work, see the work and love of God in the world around us.
And now I want to transition a bit and talk a little bit more about questions youth today are asking and see if this text can somehow help us again. Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California has what’s called the Fuller Youth Institute, where a team of scholars and researchers are devoted specifically to understanding youth culture, church culture, and how youth workers today can best engage with and serve youth for a life of discipleship. The Fuller Youth Institute produces books, podcasts, blogs, and tools for youth ministers to use in their own ministries. One of their more recent projects is a book called three Big Questions that Change Every Teenager. This book is a synthesis of hundreds of hours of interviews with teenagers, as well as recent surveys of young people.
As they interviewed teenagers from various socioeconomic, racial, cultural, and denominational backgrounds. They discovered three common themes in the form of questions that teenagers are wrestling with today. These three questions are the focus of the book and are aimed at helping youth workers and churches better minister to teenagers. The first question this book discusses is the question who am I? This question centers around identity of the person.
It probably isn’t a surprise to many of you that our world, largely due to technology, sends so many messages to people about who they are, or at least who they could be. I once heard someone say, we see ourselves the way we see others seeing us. I’ll say that again we see ourselves the way we see others seeing us. For young people today, this can be even more prevalent because they have grown up with social media as well as the constant messages they get online. It makes sense that it is so hard for young people to feel confident in their identity when we receive so many messages telling us to be someone different.
The second question this book addresses asks the question where do I belong? With this question, teenagers are wondering if they belong to a community, and if so, what community it is they’re a part of nowadays. With various teams, clubs, school groups, and online communities that are now more and more common, finding a group of people with shared interests can be easy. But finding a close knit, welcoming community where they feel loved and connected with their peers and adults can be so difficult to find today. The third question teenagers are asking that the book addresses is what is my purpose?
With this question, teens are wondering what they should do with their lives. This question asks what their vocation might be or their calling is. They wrestle with understanding what their gifts, skills and passions might be and how they can use them in the world. They also have to consider what kind of life they want to live and how their purpose in the world might fit into what they want their future to look like. So these three questions are all common questions young people are asking themselves, and many don’t have any sort of place to process these questions.
Again, I think our text today can help answer these questions and help us set a vision of what youth ministry can look like here. The answers to these questions can often overlap, as often our identity, community and purpose overlap, as we will see with Samuel. The first question for Samuel. Who am I? Requires people other than Samuel to help him discover his identity.
While he is young and ministering under Eli the priest, he has not really fully learned his identity as a prophet. Eli is the one that first gives him a picture of his identity as a servant of God. Samuel is still given the freedom to decide if he will respond to God’s call on his life or not. And when he decides to respond to God, samuel receives an answer to the first question shortly after his decision to respond to God’s call. God comes before Samuel, and he has given his prophetic voice and identity as a chosen servant of God.
Samuel’s answer to this identity question is that he is a chosen servant who is in communion with God. And now remember, the second question asked is, Where do I belong? And this question asks about where your community is. Samuel’s, calling as a chosen servant and later a prophet, places his community right in the nation of Israel. Now, prophets in the Old Testament speak on behalf of God and deliver God’s message and judgments to the people of Israel.
They were not removed from Israel, but instead were right in the middle of the nation as people, seeing what Israel is and what it could be as God’s chosen people. As a prophet, Samuel now has a sense of his own community in Israel. It is a place where he not only embraces it for what it is, but also one who challenges it in hopes of continually making it better. And the third question, what is my purpose? Is answered alongside his understanding of community, because his purpose is to be a prophetic voice for his community, Israel.
His role as a prophet is one where he listens to God’s voice and will for Israel and works to bring that voice to the people of Israel. It is within his community of Israel that he also lets his purpose work itself out as the prophetic voice of God. Now, as a church, I would love for us to consider how these three questions for teenagers put in conversation with the story of Samuel and Eli might frame what youth ministry here could look like. If there is anything the Pandemic taught us, it is that we need each other and are dependent on others for help. I would love to see us work toward moments where people from all generations can come together in this church to share meals with one another, learn from each other, and have moments to gain wisdom and understanding from people they might not typically encounter through other church events.
In the process of having these intergenerational moments, all of us, but especially youth, I hope, might allow space for everyone to wonder about our identity, community and purpose in the world. These intergenerational moments might take time for us to get there, but it is something I think we can do so all of us can learn from and lean on each other. Now, if you were to ask me how I might respond to these three questions on how I see the future of youth ministry here, I would want to just give three short responses that I think are specific in content, while also open in how we might go about trying to achieve them. For the first question. Who am I?
My simple answer would be that you are loved children of God, and I hope youth ministry here is one that continues to make that a reality for young people. And for the second question, where do I fit? I would say that you belong here in this community. In our world today. There are so many places where you have to have certain prerequisites to even belong to a group or be qualified to do something with the young people at this church.
I want them all to know that there are no requirements or prerequisites to belong to this community. In the church, there’s often a pressure to believe certain things before you belong. And here I want to reverse those so teenagers can feel like they belong regardless of where they are on their faith journey. And now for the third question what is my purpose? I’m going to steal a phrase, a professor of mine from college said, which is just to participate in Christ.
This means that we get to encourage and partner with teenagers as they participate in the loving and reconciling work of Christ. This also means that their lives might take them on a wide range of paths, but they can all still participate in the work of Christ no matter what their career ends up being. So to summarize that, I hope young people feel loved, feel like they belong and are equipped to participate in the loving and reconciling work of Christ. Now, I want to close with the story of why I think youth ministry is so incredibly important in the lives of young people. As I said before, I hope we can be a place where youth can wrestle with these three questions.
But in addition to this, I just hope it can be a place where they continue to feel loved and learn of the love of God that is extended to each of them. One of the most impactful people for me in my recent years has been the person and work of the Swiss theologian named Carl Bart. For a bit of a quick background, bart was a young pastor in Switzerland for ten years in the early 19 hundreds before later becoming a professor and theologian in Germany. He was one of the leading Christian voices that opposed Hitler leading up to and during World War II. And eventually he was kicked out of Germany by Hitler because he so strongly opposed him.
One of Bart’s largest accomplishments is his massive work called The Church Dogmatics, which he wrote between 1932 and his death in 1967. Now, The Church Dogmatics were never completed, as he still had one section to even start before he died, but they are published as 14 volumes and fill over 9000 pages. The reason I’ve become so drawn to Bart’s work is because his goal is to always point to Jesus Christ as the way we can know and say anything at all about God. His goal is to always understand Scripture, what it means to be human, what it means to be God’s people, and so many other questions in theology through the lens of Christ. Once, when Bart was on a lecture tour in the United States during the early nineteen s sixty s, a person raised their hand and asked Bart if he could summarize his life work and theology for the audience.
And the story goes that earth said, yes, I can, in the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee. And then he said, Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. The reason I love this story so much is because the person who wrote over 9000 pages of dense theology, who’s considered one of the most influential theologians in history, could so simply summarize his life’s work through a message he heard as a young person, which is knowing that Jesus loves him. When young people enter into our youth ministry here, if everything else fails, I hope the thing that they will remember years from now is that they are loved by God.
Like Karl Bart remembering back on his youth when he was taught this simple truth to him by an adult. I hope the future of youth ministry here is a place where young people can know they are loved by God, feel like they belong to the community no matter what, and become people who participate in the work of Christ in the world. Amen.