Youth today are busy, engaged in academics, sports, clubs, scouts, drama, band, etc and have busy social and family lives. And often their priority of attending Sunday morning worship and mid-week youth groups falls somewhere between having their wisdom teeth pulled and watching the next episode of Games of Thrones. For many youth the summer becomes a great time for spiritual growth because there are less distractions. For many youth groups this culminates in a summer mission trip and for many youth it is the highlight of their year.
This summer my youth group spent a week in Chicago with the wonderful folks at Fourth Presbyterian Church participating in their Urban Youth Mission program. We engaged in projects that showed us the ways in which people who are homeless, old, young, sick and hungry, struggle and often suffer in our communities. It also showed us how faith in action can provide means for people to thrive and be uplifted through the witness of progressive Christian hospitality and community partnerships.
And we squeezed in as much adventure as we could, enjoying the beauty of Chicago art, music and food, morning swims in Lake Michigan, lightning storms, fireflies and gardens of plenty growing out of concrete patches.
The scripture for the week was Luke 10:38-42. It’s a common story and we have taken it on as our theme for this year. We have decided that this scripture is not an either/or scenario but rather a both/and experience. There are times to be like Mary and times t be like Martha. But most importantly is the ability to be both. Like Mary, we need to seek opportunities to sit at the feet of Jesus by engaging in spiritual practices including worship, prayer, meditation, looking at scripture with new lens, and seeking the universal truths of God. And we want to be like Martha, action oriented and responsive to the needs of others. This is often the easier of the two for youth. It is important to note that there is nothing inherently spiritual about service opportunities, unless we make them so.
This makes it critical that youth pastors help youth make the linkages between today’s realities and social constructs and God’s timeless truths. Youth are good at compartmentalizing their lives. I have come to believe that by placing all our eggs in the summer basket, we unknowingly contribute to an on-again, off-again mentality of discipleship. What our youth need are skills in integration. We cannot, as some have suggested, set aside our Christian values that compel us to serve the poor, feed the hungry, respect all of creation, stand in solidarity with the oppressed and challenge systems (political, educational, economic, etc.) when things get messy at home, at school, in our communities. That is exactly when we need our faith to ground us in who we are and what we believe about God.
As a youth pastor, I believe, one of my jobs is to find ways to help my youth continue to transform their lives and the way they view their faith by providing opportunities that require us to be like Mary and Martha year round. So this year, our group is learning about social justice movements (recent and historic), we are expanding our prayer practices, reading scriptures through modern lenses, and engaging in service learning in areas of peace and justice. Our goal is to identify the better part of everyday situations, that part where our engagement is most in line with Christ’s teachings.
May it not be taken from them!
(Spirituality is one of the themes of the 2017 Progressive Youth Ministry Conference. Check it out and get tickets here.)