Relationships Beyond Mere Words

August 28, 2019 | Youth | John Freedman

I’ve seen it on social media and heard it via concerned phone calls — a growing urgency among those seeking a church that makes a tangible difference in this increasingly polarized culture. This urgency is not only shared by many of our members, but it echoes a direct call from our Lord who describes His followers as light and salt in this world.

Our young people are especially interested in how the Good News relates to the bad news we see every day. We can issue statements about immigration or hate speech, gun violence or racism. But they want to be part of a church that goes beyond mere words to build lasting relationships within and without, that intentionally seeks to be a channel of blessings to align practical answers with real needs.

This is why I’m increasingly excited about the trends I see within our Growing Young movement throughout the North Pacific Union Conference. This was initiated as an intentional decision by our executive committee just two years ago. More than a knee-jerk reaction to a momentary need, this was a thoughtful strategy with hopes for long-term results. With the Spirit’s guidance, they unleashed this ongoing investment in collaboration with your conference in the present and future engagement of young people with our church’s unique mission for Jesus.

It includes a realization that our young people are ready to take on God’s call in powerful ways unique to them, not just the way things have always been done. The evidence is coming clear. The Growing Young pilot program began less than two years ago with 10 cohort churches. Now this project has expanded to more than 40 new churches, greatly expanding the impact and potential. Several churches in our cohorts have more than doubled the number of young adults attending — in one church, the number has quadrupled. Some are being baptized or rebaptized. A special weekend gathering in the Washington Conference recently inspired and challenged more than 200 young adults toward active, Christ-centered ministry.

Growing Young cohorts throughout our Northwest churches have created a supportive environment where groups of church members learn how to 1) create a warm welcoming environment in which to love young people, 2) build relationships with them and 3) work alongside each other to reach the felt needs of their communities. None of this is about music style, church facilities or entertainment. It’s an intentional willingness to give young adults “the keys” to the church by involving them in responsible and challenging ministry opportunities for Jesus.

To be successful in the long run means being intentional about ministry to every generation of our church’s membership. Many growing churches already have a critical component in place for this. Their Pathfinders/Adventurers ministry groups meet weekly to spiritually nurture, care for and grow children and youth. By the time you read this, I’ll be back from the International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wis., where more than 50,000 Pathfinders were inspired and challenged to surrender their life to Jesus and serve others.

Years of dedicated service by many have made Pathfinder ministry the success it is today. The same will be true of ministry for and with young adults. When we learn to love our young people not as projects but as partners, when all our members — young and old — live out the gospel of Christ as they are impressed by the Spirit, our church will grow to be more like the light and salt Jesus intended.

We owe an eternal debt of gratitude already to those lay members, pastors and conference young adult leaders who invested with us early for ministry with young adults. They are paving the way and inspiring all of us to believe it is possible for young people to become the powerful leading edge of our church’s mission — not just someday, but now.  

This is not an optional exercise. It is part of God’s call. In moving forward together on this mission, we are responding to Jesus. We are learning to be about our Father’s business.