Canada Youth 2018 Service
CY messages by Rachel Kotei & Allan Ireland
Message: “CY We Were Stirred”
It has been 10 years since my family moved here from Ghana, West Africa, to Canada and I remember being shocked that:
- My peers and younger got to decide if they wanted to come to church or not
- That those who were there on a Sunday were not sure if they believed in God
In that same year, 2008, I also realized that the mention of anything spiritual will have people—and not just my classmates—giving me strange looks and a wide berth, and that was jarring. I wondered what could be so different in both countries, and continents really, that made teenage faith formation so distinct.
For giving me the opportunity to be part of Canada Youth 2018, in the Youth Ministry Training Track, I am forever grateful because I was able to get some confirmation and insight to what I was curious about. So again, thank you.
Thus, the keynote sessions, which were led by Andrew Root—Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota—were the highlight of this track. Several of his published books talk about faith formation in our modern world and I was impressed by the depth of his research on this topic. We discussed the changes in why and how people believed in God since the 1500s to now and here’s what that looked like:
- In ancient times, people’s livelihood was primarily within 3 categories; the clergy, knights, and farmers. This meant different levels of education and access to information. People wondered more and relied heavily on God for the tomorrows they could not predict. Therefore, every church tradition was sacred, especially, communion.
- We then moved into the age of mobilization, where the class barriers did not prevent people from getting education, so with more knowledge came more inventions, allowing them to satisfy their needs and even their wants. People started to believe they did not need the Lord as much but were bound by duty and obligation to honour spiritual traditions. Science and belief were made to be rivals who can’t exist together, and one must cancel out the other.
- Then came the age of authenticity in the 60s and the Youth movement, where people started to believe in being original and true to yourself. Not following the status quo, duty, or obligation. Where notions of obedience and following Jesus smacked of conformity.
- And now, in this age of modernity, most people living in developed countries like North America and parts of Europe, can meet their basic needs and have all they could possibly want within reach. Where the period between knowing and not knowing is short because there is this “all-knowing” Google with your answer in 0.6123 seconds. Where we have become short on patience and are constantly inventing ways to bridge the waiting times through science and technology.
It is no wonder that the youth in our church might be confused or even resistant about what role God plays in their lives in a time when all their physical needs are met. Why, there is so much to discover to fulfill our physical wants that we might not make time to think about spirituality and Our Father’s desire to be with us, to love us, to guide us, and to comfort us. The conclusion here is that we have become disenchanted with God. Essentially, if you are living an okay life and all things that used to be purely spiritual can be answered with tangible results, why do you need God? Here’s one example Andrew Root gave for what disenchantment looks like today:
So, he and his family were taking part in a communion service one Sunday. Everyone was in a circle and the elements were being passed around when his son—who was brought up in a Christian home, with a father who is a seminary professor—turns to Andrew and asks him, “Is the bread gluten-free? I’ll pass”.
This same bread that was considered sacred to people of the 1500s, for which they made sure they felt spiritually clean before partaking in it, is now a matter of choice to Andrew’s son. Another sign of disenchantment today can be seen in the way secular parents describe religion as one of the many activity choices available to us today.
Let’s read 2nd Timothy 1: 3-5 again:
Paul says, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
It is heartbreaking to see that we cannot say the same for most of today’s youth as Paul says of Timothy. It must sadden God to see so many of his children turn away from him and that was why myself and 30+ others where taking the Youth Ministry training track. How do we turn the eyes, hearts, and minds of youth upon Jesus? How do we stir faith in them and not shake them? Although it seems bleak for the church, there is hope that once the youth are able to wrestle with the events of life and find that the things of the world cannot fully satisfy, the ever-existing mystery of the world will move them to find meaning in the world, through Christ, affirming their own journey of authenticity.
You might be thinking, well that sounds too passive. Shouldn’t we be bold in proclaiming our faith? Personally, I understand that phrase “boldness” to mean confidence. Not arrogance or aggression, but confidence.
Confidence, that you will not be shaken by the answers that many people might accept as enough to fulfill any spiritual enquiry, but that the word of God, the Bible, is indeed our guiding compass to all spiritual fulfillment.
Confidence in the fact that God is ever-present and the spirit, necessary in our desire to follow Christ.
Confidence, that we need the Lord in this age of science and that our lives are worth so much more knowing that God so loved us, he sent his only son as atonement for our sins.
We can show this confidence when working with the youth currently in our churches and outside of them, by ministering to them. Now, I don’t mean minister, as in going up to someone and preaching to them. Root gave a definition of ministry that I agree to be essential in reaching today’s youth. He said that to minister is to be there for someone in their moment of HUMANITY. For example, you don’t see a child crying and go, “Kid, if God is for us, who can be against us?” The first step to reaching and connecting with our youth will be to acknowledge their human experiences and connecting with them in a way that assures them that you see and care, and then that God sees and cares. There is hope that we can draw them closer to God when we let ministry precede theology.
Thank you again for giving me this opportunity to explore such questions about faith formation. It gave me hope to know that we are acknowledging such issues and have a practical start to reaching our youth.
Over the past number of years, the CY organizing team recognized that there was an opportunity to not only bring the future leaders of the church (in the form of our youth) to Brock University for 5 days, but they could also bring together some of the current leaders and provide them with information and resources that they might take back to deal with some of the common problems that congregations are dealing with. It made a lot of sense as they had some of the best leaders in Canada already there for the youth. The resources were in place. And so FastTrack was born.
I had the opportunity to attend this inaugural year along with Bahati and Elizabeth and we were blessed with an amazing experience.
Ross Lockhart, the same Ross Lockhart who will be coming to St. Andrew’s in a few weeks, was the Plenary speaker, and I don’t think that they could have made a better choice. He gave a knowledgeable, articulate and at times, humorous description of the possible reasons for the decline of the church in North America through the 20th century and outlined possible solutions. He provided insights from personal experience as well as background resources so that we could learn more after we returned home. There were others within the track that talked to us about worship design, resource management and ‘why we should not think that youth are the future of our church’ (which I thought was an odd topic to come up with at a National Youth Conference).
There really were too many things that I learned at CY to be able to discuss them all today. My wife tells me that I like to talk, but I think that it’s just that I interact with some very good listeners and so I would just like to share just one takeaway from CY, so that you get to go home at a reasonable hour. For me it wasn’t an especially positive takeaway, but it really gave me a lot to think about over the summer and made me re-examine some ideas that, for the longest time, I held as truth.
To start, I would like to take a step back, before I went to CY, before I was an elder, to a time when I was teaching Sunday School, to a conversation that I had with the most reverend Annabelle Wallace.
I was a new teacher at the time and we were talking about the importance of Sunday school. She told me that the best gift that we, as teachers could give young people was the knowledge that God loved them unconditionally, and that He would be with them…always. They would never be alone. She then said that the young people in our classes were not going to be the future of St Andrew’s. I must have shown my confusion, because she went on to say that they were going to grow up and get an education and a job and get married and move away and become a part of another congregation, taking the spirit of God, nurtured here at St. Andrew’s with them. It was the young people from other congregations around the country, along with their families that would be the ones taking their places in the pews, and sharing with us. It was an epiphany for me at the time.
However, coming back to the present, what I learned at CY was that this was no longer true. Statistics have shown that 40-50% of young people who leave home to get a post-secondary education no longer attend church after their first month away. Not only that. Once they move away from the church, very few come back. And this has been going on for years.
This was another epiphany, although one that I could have done without. In my own faith journey, I left the church for an extended period of time, but I reached a point where I needed to feel the presence of God in my life once again and I came back…and you haven’t been able to get rid of me. I had always assumed that this pattern would be the same with young people in today’s society. They would go off, do what they needed to do and eventually show up in their local church. But that’s no longer true. There are now more people in our society who identify as not belonging to a church than ever before.
At CY we learned that we can no longer expect people to just walk through our doors and become members because for many, their experience no longer includes the bible stories and knowledge that we grew up with. Ross told us that we must be bold, to go out and meet people where they are, and share with them the good news of Christ. After thinking about this over the summer, I’m hopeful. We have an amazing congregation here at St. Andrew’s. We have an abundance of talents and treasures and now all we have to do is become a little better at sharing them so that others can know the love of Christ as well. I don’t think that we have to do something radically different. We have already started along this path, through our work with SNCM, the Ecumenical Chaplaincy, The Lighthouse and our Advent Appeal but maybe we have to dust off our elevator speeches and become a little bolder so that we can share with people why Christ is relevant in our lives because if Christ is relevant to us, then he will be relevant in the lives of others. In conclusion, one thing that we learned that mission is no longer sending others to foreign countries to share God’s love. It’s an opportunity that we have right outside our doors.