Congregational mission planning with children and youth
By Kristine Stache
Fall is here. Donations of notebooks, markers and rulers fill the basket in the narthex for local school children. Canned goods are stacked neatly as they are dropped off each Sunday morning. Coins clink as children add them to the jar to raise money for purchasing a cow for a family in a country far, far away. What a beautiful sight, children and youth making a difference in the lives of others through mission. But is it enough? Is this really all that mission is about?
It’s time to blow the lid off our current working definitions of mission. We have been created by a missionary God to participate in God’s mission in the world, with our unique gifts and idiosyncrasies. We are created with purpose as individuals and as communities of faith. One of the biggest gifts we can provide to members of the youngest generation in our congregations is to walk with them as they grow into an understanding of mission as more than what we donate. It is actually one of being and participation.
So, how can we as parents, friends and congregations encourage them to live into that reality? How can we help them see themselves as created and called by God to be God’s missionaries in the world? I offer three simple places to start.
1) Teach our youth to listen. I mean to really listen. Not from an obedience, follow the rules standpoint, but from a listen with more than our ears perspective, listen with our hearts and our heads. And by teach, I don’t mean instruct, but to learn with them, to walk with them and model deep listening, listening to God, to our neighbor and to ourselves. One of the easiest ways I know to do this is to sit with a person and read a passage of Scripture together. Then spend time wondering together. Ask questions like:
- I wonder why Jesus said that?
- I wonder what I would have done?
- I wonder if there are people today who feel the same way?
Wondering together creates this safe space to think aloud about who God is and how God acts in the world. Wondering can also help us move from understanding Scripture as something about God and them to something about God and us. Wondering leaves pat answers at the door. It’s about exploring the unknown together.
2) Help our youth understand and live into the reality that they were uniquely created by God with intent and purpose to participate in God’s work in the world. Their participation is not contingent upon what they do or how much they donate, but who they are, or better yet, whose they are, God’s chosen one. Provide them with different kinds of models and mentors, who engage them as individuals, not just as a group of teens or a class of preschoolers. Give them opportunities to use their gifts in different ways. Do all confirmands need to be acolytes? Could some be lay readers? Could adults also serve as acolytes? Can 8-year-olds usher?
3) Make a philosophical (and theological) shift from providing ministries to children, youth and families to that of ministering with children, youth and families. Create opportunities for relationship building. Living in community is for all members of a community. As children of God, we are gifted individually to serve communally. We have as much to learn from those younger than us as we have to teach. We are all teachers; we are all learners. A more mutually beneficial approach to ministry will strengthen the whole community.
God is good. God is at work in the world, in our communities and in our homes. We have been granted the privilege of walking with our children and youth as they discovery ways to live out this call in their own lives. God is already at work, what a privilege that we all get to be a part of it!
Kristine Stache is an associate professor of Missional Leadership and director of Distributed Learning and Certificate Programs at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
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Creative ways to learn about the global mission of the ELCA
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