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Nov22FriInvest in youth now to ensure your congregation thrives in 20 years. November 22, 2013 by Commissioner Brian Peddle
Some days I wish I had a crystal ball. Wouldn't you like to know that what you hope for now will become a reality in the future? I am not talking about God's ultimate promise of eternity but about the future of the church and, more specifically, the next few generations. What do you see when you envision your congregation in 20 years? Is your gathered church just for you or does it include those who will come into adulthood in 2033?
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
Commissioner Rosalie Peddle and I meet different congregations—big, small, rural and urban—each Sunday. We meet the most wonderful congregants and rarely is there any need for a negative critique except the haunting question, “Where will they be in 10 or 20 years?”
In late August, I attended the final program of the National Music Camp, where 180 youth participated in brass, vocal, worship teams, film, drama, timbrels and other forms of ministry (see article). Frankly, it was overwhelming and inspiring. In my devotions at the final program, I used words I heard earlier in the week: “Some would say the Army is dying. I would say, not tonight!” A glimpse of our potential future was all around me.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) released a study last year, Hemorrhaging Faith, that took a snapshot of the church landscape across the nation in relation to our young adults. The study was a wake-up call to every denomination, including The Salvation Army. Beyond the statistics and doom-and-gloom, there was a concise and practical overture as to how we might reverse trends and capture the hearts and minds of our youth once again. It appeared to me that the challenge, though formidable, was not impossible. In fact, our expression of the body of Christ seemed well-positioned to engage with the passionate hearts of our youth. The EFC noted that to stop the hemorrhage and secure the future, we have to deepen our discipleship initiatives, appeal to youths' existing passion to be positive influences in their communities, engage them in a mission experience both home and abroad, and ensure they feel comfortable asking penetrating questions.
But where are the champions for our youth? Aside from the ordained and hired, who is stepping into the gap where role models are scarce, mentors are few and Christian influences are reduced to an occasional encounter at an organized event? I am the product of the investment of other people—many of whom were my youth leaders. Bless those who step up and out into this strange world that we call the youth culture of today. We need “boots on the ground” in corps across the territory.
I want to be a catalyst for future-proofing the Army. Not only with functional property, appropriate programs and a strong financial base, but also with young, creative, talented, mission-minded people who will make the Army their home, serve in their corps and work in the Army's social services. But I know I can't do this alone.
Can I, with respect, make an accusation? Our young people frequent our camps, youth councils and area youth gatherings and often return to their home corps alone, isolated and destined to be absent and lost, at least to the Army. In every setting, as Salvationists we must be willing to inspire youth to use their talents, ignite and fuel their passion and trust them to lead.
Some are saying that one of the conditions of our corps' existence should be measured by their active and fruitful youth ministry. Some corps and youth leaders have this figured out and are already experiencing God's blessing through youth ministry. But how does your corps stack up? What can you do? How can we future-proof our Army?
Commissioner Brian Peddle is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory.