I’m not sure how many of you know that my passion for ministry and call to become a pastor had a great deal to do with my working with children and youth. Early in our married life Sandi and I began teaching a high school Sunday school class at the Elmhurst Presbyterian church. When we moved to Wheaton we joined the 1st Presbyterian Church and soon afterwards became leaders of the youth group. It was in these days as a church volunteer working with children and youth that I was able to discern my call and cut my teeth on simple theological understandings. After eventually succumbing to God’s call on my life, attending seminary and eventually being ordained I always knew that my ministry would have a strong child and youth presence. I do this today by teaching confirmation classes, leading the youth group, going on mission trips, and making an effort to attend events that our children and youth participate in. I also know every one of our young peoples’ names, have spent time listening to them, answering their questions and challenging the greater societal influences that befall them. I even warned the Pastoral Nominating Committee before I came to St. Luke Union Church that if I was talking to an adult and a child came to me, I would allow that child to interrupt the conversation.
So what then has this approach and attitude toward the children and youth done for the young people of St. Luke Union Church, and why is it so important? One reason is that we are teaching them to be Godly people. People who will some day leave the comforts of home to explore the world yet will have a strong enough faith to stand up to all the cultural influences they will face. The second is they have learned about the rock of stability that is the church. That the church is a place they may take for granted in the good times but remains steadfast for them and remains waiting for their return. The third is that through the relationships we have with these young people we are helping build in them resilience. This resilience will allow them to face the challenges and failures in ways that will see them accomplish and drive them to success. It is the positive relationships that we build and nurture with our children and youth that is key for this Christian community to thrive.
In an article I read recently by Dr. Lisa Hosack titled, “Building Resilient Young People,” she speaks about how the parent-child relationship is everything when it comes to a child’s development and their resilience in the world. She goes on to say children with the best inputs like education and material resources wind up with developmental gaps if they are not nested within loving and empowering relationships. The flip side has also been determined that a young person in a positive relationship can offset the negative developmental effects of social problems. Hosack’s research conclusion is: “The reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship (inside or outside the family) as well as opportunities for developing effective coping skills matter most when it comes to learning resilience.”
So what then does this mean for each of us? For me, I will continue to pay special attention to the children and youth who walk through the doors of St. Luke Union Church. For each of you I challenge you to reach out to our young people, learn their names, find out what gifts God has bestowed upon them, tell them your story, enjoy their energy and walk with them in the discoveries of the gift of life.
Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture those baptized, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ?