And Why the Church Should Notice.
Let’s talk about youth.
Depending on the English translation you’re using, the word “youth” appears 50 to 90 times in the Old Testament and 1 to 10 times in the New Testament.
This would be a straightforward word study if it weren’t for our 2016 Western culture definition of youth (which often equates to being a teenager). You see, this doesn’t transfer over Biblically.
So, before we unpack any Scriptural references pertaining to youth, it’s important to understand who we’re talking about Biblically and culturally.
In Bible times, the classification of a youth often had more to do with when a child hit puberty than an actual age. This considered, depending on the individual, a youth could be defined as 10 to 15 years of age (depending on their development).
Youth would have had many household and family responsibilities. Male youth would have started learning the family trade and female youth would have learned how to care for a household.
During this time of youth, many discussions would have been had about getting married and starting a family. By the age of 16 (or perhaps even earlier) they would be earning a wage, working through the courtship or engagement process or even married and starting a family of their own.
In some arranged marriage situations, young women could be married as early as 12 years old.
To give an example of the distinction between youth and young adults, we can read Isaiah 40, verses 30 and 31: “30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.“
2016 Western Youth
So what do we do with our 2016 Western world definition of youth? Do we scrap it and as a church, and try to move back to the Biblical definition? And if we do, how do we communicate with the world around us?
Whether we like it or not, we’re stuck in this time period and therefore, we’re stuck with the cultural definition of youth.
Culturally, youth is often connected with most of or all the teenage years, referring to people between the ages of 12 to 18, perhaps 19 or 21 depending on the state, province or territory.
A youth’s life often consists of school, family responsibilities, maybe a part-time job. Culturally, youth do not hit adulthood until age 18 to 21. The focus is still on school, but also include trade and work.
Lastly, very different from Bible times, the lives of both these generations includes a large amount of social and tech time.
Why am I explaining all of this? What’s the point?
As 2016 Christians living in the Western world, we need to communicate the word “youth” culturally. But mentally, we should keep a Biblical understanding in the back of our minds.
Youth In Scripture
So, somewhere between the ages of 10 and 15, Joshua left his parents to serve under Moses. During Joshua’s key years of growth, service and passion, Moses invested in him.
No wonder why he went on to become such an amazing leader? Look at the opportunity he was given!
This has happened numerous times throughout Scripture, where key leaders invest in the passion-potential of youth in their teenage years. Joshua under Moses, Samuel under Eli, Paul & Timothy and many scholars believe a few of the disciples were in their late teens when Jesus first called them.
Youth In the Church
What about now? What about the 2016 Western church? Are youth still worth investing in? Can youth still bring passion into the church?
Perhaps some of you have heard reports in the news or on social media about what’s happening in an area of West Virginia? Over the past few months, there’s been reports of revival spreading throughout the southern part of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky.
“…people are coming to Christ by the hundreds…Katie Endicott, the Prayer Club sponsor at Mingo Central High School in West Virginia, this revival started when Skyler Miller, a student at Logan High, started preaching in the halls of his school in late March, 2016.“
Soon this spread of the Gospel started to receive media attention. Endicott was interviewed by Fox 11 West Virginia and stated the following:
“Probably six schools have had kids getting saved left and right and that’s been going on for two weeks. In the past three days, 1,500 kids have given their lives to Jesus through this movement.”
With media attention, also comes criticism. As the Gospel continued to spread, students started organizing concerts and gatherings after school in football fields. One gathering attracted over a thousand students.
That’s when the school district received an official complaint from an organization called “The Freedom From Religion Foundation“.
The group criticized the school district for allowing such a gathering. The FFRF called the revival meeting a “serious unconstitutional violation.” In the end, the school district was able to sidestep the issue because they didn’t know the meeting was taking place.
The Benefit of Youth
That’s the benefit of the youth generation: They have the passion to speak but they also have the freedom to speak.
In our modern culture (including our school system), student-led meetings and events are encouraged and often celebrated. For the most part, as long as the message is brought forward by a student the message is allowed.
Of course this goes for any and all messages (including message that contradict the Bible and the Gospel). So there is competition out there, but those other messages don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit do they?
Obtaining Youth Input
The passion of youth can also help create environments of evangelism that reach people of all ages.
Research has shown that churches that frequently seek the opinion of youth (teens) in their services and programs have higher rates of true evangelism and unchurched growth.
“I’ve talked with many church leaders who want to reach unchurched people who can’t understand why unchurched people don’t like their church. They would be stumped until I asked them one last question: do the teens in your church love your services and want to invite their friends? As soon as I asked that question, the leader’s expression would inevitably change. He or she would look down at the floor and say ‘no’. Here’s what I believe: if teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people. As a rule, if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.“
That last sentence is so crucial! “…if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.“