What is the place and calling of young people and young adults in the church? I present it as a challenge to you: Be committed to serve in the church.
We have to reckon with the sad reality that many churches, including evangelical and Reformed churches, lose most of their youth in their young adult years. Many churches today complain about the absence of young adults. The sad fact is that many younger nominal Christians have little use for the institute of the church, organized religion, or involvement in a congregation. According to one study, most of the more than 3,000 teenagers interviewed saw religion as a combination of works righteousness (be nice; be good), psychological well-being (feeling good about one’s self), and a distant non-interfering God (he’s there if you get into a pinch). If that’s all that it amounts to, who needs the church? That may be the extreme, but sometimes our young people too can have difficulty going from childhood to mature involvement in the life of the congregation.
- Why do you think so many young Christians today see no need to be involved in a congregation?
- What reasons do you have for being involved in your church?
Perhaps we too have the tendency to take the congregation where we are members for granted. The congregation has probably always been there. We may have been a member there all our lives. We have always had easy access to the church. We have never been prevented because of opposition or persecution from attending the worship services. We have always been able to hear faithful preaching of the gospel. We have always had the opportunity to take part in the life and activity of the congregation. How easy it is to take the church for granted. We often fail to appreciate and love the church, or even realize our need for the church and our calling to serve.
This becomes evident when we have a casual or indifferent attitude toward the church and our membership in it. Maybe we are not very enthusiastic about the worship services. Perhaps we are not very interested in the sermons. We are not really concerned about the welfare of the church. We are involved as little as possible in the life of the church. We try to stay in the background. We simply do not have the time to give the church a prominent place in our lives; we have no time to serve.
Or maybe it’s the case that we get discouraged about the church and develop a pessimistic attitude. It is certainly true that the church has many weaknesses and sins. The church of Christ in the midst of this world is far from perfect, for it is composed of sinners who are saved by grace. That reality can make it difficult to love the church. We can get down on ourselves when we see our own weaknesses, and it is possible to become preoccupied with the weaknesses of other members. Their attitude or behavior can make it difficult to want to serve in the church.
At other times we may see general weaknesses in our congregations or in the denomination. We may be concerned about what we perceive to be a lack of interest in doctrinal distinctiveness. Or we notice a tendency toward legalism or worldliness. Or there seems to be a lack of zeal for mission work. Or we see some pushing for changes in the church with which we do not agree. We then become discouraged and disillusioned with the church. We find it difficult to love it. If the only things we see are the church’s flaws and weaknesses, it is almost impossible to love and serve the church as we ought.
From the perspective of Psalm 48: 12–13 we see our calling to notice the strengths and beauty of the church: “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces.” That doesn’t imply that we are to ignore its weaknesses. They must be noticed and dealt with in the church orderly way. But just as the Old Testament believer was to consider the strengths and beauty of the city of Jerusalem as the city of God, so we are called to behold the church from the viewpoint of what God has made it to be in Christ. The church does not have beauty and strength because of men. The church is beautiful and strong because of its glorious head, Jesus Christ. It is beautiful and strong because God is in its midst and blesses it. This provides motivation and incentive to love and serve the church.
- Do you think that you take your congregation, for granted? Why or why not?
- Why is it so easy to have a negative attitude toward the church?
Taking this a step further, we must consider a truth which we confess together every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed: the communion of saints. How often do we think about our place in the communion of saints? We are not merely so many individual members of a church. We are all members of one living organism of the body of Christ and so also members one of another.
This is a very practical thing that we must keep in mind. We then live not unto ourselves or for ourselves, but we live for the sake of the body of Christ, also as it is manifest in our own congregations. God has given to each of the saints, also young saints, a calling within the communion. God has through the Holy Spirit endowed each of the saints, young and old alike, with certain gifts and talents, and with a certain measure of grace. By virtue of these gifts and the grace of God, each of the saints has a particular place and calling within the church. Some may seem to be more honorable and of greater significance than others. Nevertheless all of them are needed for the fullness of the communion of saints, also in the local congregation. All of the saints, from the greatest to the least, have a place and a calling in the communion of the saints.
The apostle Paul explains this so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12. In verse 18 we read, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him “(see also verses 23–27). The calling of all the saints of God is therefore to work toward the full manifestation of the communion of the saints to the glory of God. In that calling each of us has need of all the other members of the body, and each of us stands in the service of all of the other members of the body.
The communion of the saints comes to its most glorious manifestation in the institutional life of the church. Above all our calling is to gather with the church in worship. The worship services give opportunity for each of us to exercise his calling as a member of the communion of the saints. We have such wonderful opportunities for fellowship together each Sunday. Also the catechism classes, the Bible studies, and the various societies provide wonderful opportunities to serve by our attendance and participation. But we have to take the time and make the time to be involved and prepared.
Our calling to serve as young Christians goes beyond the institutional life of the church and extends to our calling toward one another in all of life. Acts 2:41–47 presents a beautiful picture of the love and concern of the saints in the early church for one another. The apostle Paul states in Philippians 4:8, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” How easy it is to just focus on ourselves! How much of our lives are spent living unto and for ourselves?
The Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes this aspect of our calling to serve in answer 55: “…that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts for the advantage and salvation of other members.” It is easy for us to neglect this aspect of church membership. It is easy for us to become self-centered. Then our concern is a matter of what is in it for me: how am I served by my membership in the church?
Our care and concern for others will manifest itself in visiting the fatherless and widows in their afflictions ( James 1:27). Opportunities to serve in this way abound: visiting those in the hospital or nursing home, the widows and widowers. We will comfort and assist the sorrowing and those who are troubled or distressed.
Our service will also manifest itself in seeking to help those who are struggling spiritually or who have fallen into a way of sin. We will seek them out to encourage and admonish them in love. We will strive to lead them in the way of repentance. Motivated by the desire to help and serve, we will kneel with them at the cross.
- To use the language of 1 Corinthians 12, do you think we as younger Christians tend to think of ourselves as less honorable members of the body of Christ? Less important, less necessary? Why?
- What is implied and included when James 1:27 speaks of pure and undefiled religion as being “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction”?
- To paraphrase a famous quotation of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what the church can do for you; ask what you, as a young member of the church, can do to serve others in the church.” What do you think about that?
For many years now in American culture, the presence of a “generation gap” has been assumed to be an inevitable reality. I think that too often our church life conforms to that assumption at precisely the time when you young people and young adults most need to be involved in the broader life of the church as a whole. It is so easy in the church, perhaps especially in larger congregations, to divide everything according to age groups. We’ve discussed our unity in the body of Christ, in the communion of saints.But that must be shown in real life in the congregation. That should be reflected in how we love, serve, and live with each other, regardless of age.
If our congregational lives are exclusively or even primarily segregated according to age, it is difficult for young people to be involved and to serve as much as possible. That makes it difficult for you to have, enjoy, and serve in relationships with those who are both older and younger. Don’t misunderstand: our young people’s societies and young adults groups are important, necessary, and very valuable. But your involvement and service in the church ought to go far beyond that, and I’m very thankful that very often it does in many ways.
But I challenge you to do more to serve. Be committed, already now, to serve in the church. Be a good example for those who are younger; perhaps be a friend or mentor to a young person. Be able to say that you are a friend of this couple and their children, or of that older single woman or man, or of one of the shut-ins. As a younger Christian, be hospitable. Scripture says (1 Peter 4:9), “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” Share your life, your interests, your hobbies, your sporting events, programs, choir concerts, or musical talents with others. Hospitality—no, you may not have your own home to invite somebody over to provide a meal, but you can still, in a self-giving way, involve others in your lives, and that is the heart of hospitality. Increasingly become a self-giving part of the church. Love the church. Serve the church, and you will grow and flourish there.
- Do you agree that this calling to hospitality applies to younger Christians?
- Do you feel our congregations are too segregated according to age? If so what can we do to improve that?
- Are there more opportunities to serve for young men than there are for young women?
- What place should prayer have in your serving in the church?
- How about supporting the kingdom causes?
We need the church. We do as young people and young adults. As much as we love God and love the glory of God, we ought to love God’s church, value our membership there, and live in the consciousness of our calling to serve the church. Our attitude toward the church ought to be the attitude expressed in the hymn:
“I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The Church our blest Redeemer saved,
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God!
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.”