Youth of today have little choice but to be in the world. Global communities, advances in technology, 24-hour media exposure, and the relative ease of traveling anywhere on the globe creates in youth a deep awareness of our planet’s diversity. This can be wonderful; there is still beauty in the world. But good news seldom rings loudest, and almost anyone can become overwhelmed by the mass information about sin, death, and despair. Youth, out of a sense of self-preservation, may choose to disconnect from the presumably far-away problems broadcasted on the nightly news. But as Christians we are called to be examples of God’s amazing love and grace in this dark world. The challenge for Christian teens is to be engaged in the world as disciples of the Living God, while remaining separate from the world as something holy and set-apart. The good news: there is plenty of opportunity for just that as youth are encouraged to respond to the great needs of people.
“As we have opportunity let us do good to all people, especially the family of God!” (Gal. 6:10). The Christian life starts at home, in the family and in the church. All of life for us is an opportunity to do our work according to God’s will. Each day spent in honest pursuit of our vocation is a day spent unto the glory of God. So as leaders of youth, take the opportunity to teach those in your care that as recipients of God’s grace and His Baptism, they are now charged to live joyfully and to act as His redeemed children, not as those who don’t know God and who don’t know any better.
Then, teach your youth about the real world–and I’m not talking about the MTV show. They need to know the reality of sin: injustice, persecution, discrimination, hunger, war, murder, greed; a world steeped in basic sin. A good resource for helping youth understand injustice is The Justice Mission by Youth Specialties. Consider Student Underground, also by Youth Specialties, to teach about the persecution of believers and challenge youth into action. As youth are led to see the sins of this world, they have opportunity to move beyond themselves into empathy for a world in need of God’s grace.
Teach your youth about differences and diversity. Many youth in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are unaware that real people live in circumstances very different from their own. Show them the conditions of the homeless, the hunger of the Third World, the despair of those ruled by despots. Show them the frustrations of the disabled, the impoverished, and the aged. Show them also the beauty and vibrancy of other people’s cultures. Show them patiently and help them let go of the judgmental barriers they may have, so that they can be free to see all people as God’s dearly beloved, intended for eternity.
Encourage your youth to connect with like-minded Christians who desire to make a difference in the world. Attend District and National LCMS Youth Gatherings, camps, and retreats–places where youth can spur one another toward love and good deeds. Teach them consistently that God calls Christians to live differently; that they are to feed, clothe, invite in, visit, and serve those God places in their care. Teach your youth that the Gospel doesn’t end with them, but radiates out from them to meet the needs of all people as God uses them to show His love and mercy.
Give your youth the opportunity to serve. Nearly everyone learns best by doing. Youth have a “let’s do something about it” impulse that naturally moves them into serving. There are lists and lists of organizations that provide opportunities to serve. World Vision and Compassion International provide opportunities to sponsor children from other countries, which can give youth an awareness of new cultures and areas of the world. Host a youth event such as the Famine Series from LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Such events teach about poverty and hunger, and give youth ways to take action against those things. Servants Events, like those sponsored by the LCMS Youth Ministry Office, are especially life-changing for youth. There are also mission trips, work camps, house-building projects, and volunteer work projects in every state in America. Any of these can open up a whole new world for the youth as they visibly help make a difference in people’s lives.
Finally, be ready. As a youth leader, steel yourself for unplanned moments when the opportunity to empower and enable youth strikes. Years ago, our city had two school shootings within a month. After the first shooting, our youth wanted to gather and invite friends. We opened up the youth house so youth could come and talk and pray. Youth met a need and served one another. Last year’s hurricanes provided opportunity for youth to step up and serve immediately and for months to come. Pray that God will help you meet people’s needs in times of crisis with swift action and steady mercy. As you take action and serve alongside youth, you provide them a foundation for a lifetime of working to serve God by serving others. With God’s grace and by His power, the youth of today, the adults of tomorrow, can continue to do good to all people. Praise be to God!
Cheri Selander serves as Director of Christian Education for Christ Lutheran Church in La Mesa, Calif.