On the 14th of February 2018, a student with an AR-15 rifle murdered 17 young people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This tragedy sent ripples across the whole world, so much so that it has remained a strong talking point months later. There is one key reason for this: young people.
I have been amazed, watching from afar as the Never Again MSD movement gained momentum. Spearheaded by survivors of the shooting, Never Again MSD is generating real hope that there can be a change in America’s gun laws to prevent future tragedies from happening.
It seems to me that older generations have often written off or dismissed young people who want to bring change. Their viewpoints are considered to be immature, their delivery too disrespectful, their dreams too naïve. Maybe there’s a case for that to some extent, but listening to Emma González’s “We Call B.S.” speech, it’s clear that though she is young she is also informed, passionate and also a gifted orator.
The Bible gives us several examples of young people who, in spite of what they lacked in experience and years, brought about great change in their societies.
Joseph was a young man when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. When he was thrown in prison, his integrity was such that he was put in charge of all the other prisoners. Upon his release, he was appointed Prime Minister, overseeing the whole nation.
Gideon was the youngest son of the smallest clan of the smallest tribe in Israel, but God called him a mighty warrior and used him to bring his people freedom from the Midianites.
Samuel was little more than a child, serving Eli the priest when God first spoke to him. That moment signalled the end of Eli’s ministry and the beginning of Samuel taking the mantle. He would go on to be a leader in Israel for the rest of his life, appointing kings and speaking God’s word to the people.
Daniel and his friends were young men taken into exile in Babylon. They determined to be faithful to God in this pagan empire, no matter the cost, and as a result, they changed the attitude of the most powerful people in Babylon.
Jesus’ disciples were likely in their teens or early twenties when they began their three-year journey with Jesus. These unlikely young men became the apostles who were used by God to bring about explosive growth in the early Church. Many of them died in the process, but the change they began is still affecting the world today.
There is great potential in young people to bring about massive change for the benefit of the world. We ought not to write them off, but to support them, even though that change may be uncomfortable for those who have become accustomed to the way things are now.
There is great potential in young people to bring about massive change for the benefit of the world.
I can’t help but wonder what our churches would look like if we encouraged our young people to show the same passion and drive as the Parkland survivors. I suspect that it wouldn’t just be our churches which would look different, but our schools and communities as well.
If you’re involved with youth ministry in any context, you’re probably already thinking like this. That being the case, I’m addressing this to all those of us who aren’t directly involved in youth ministry. What if we were prepared to suspend our preferences in favour of our young people so that they might have a platform to spread the Gospel with passion and see our communities reached in new ways? It might be uncomfortable. It might get loud. We might sing more songs which are unfamiliar. Our services might be attended by more people who don’t know ‘how to behave’ in church. That might seem scary, but what if all of that is simply a side effect of real and lasting change because Jesus is at work through our young people?
This is a bit of a cliche, but I’ll go there anyway: young people are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church today. They have the potential to challenge us, to change us and to lead us into a better future.
Young people are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church today. They have the potential to challenge us, to change us and to lead us into a better future.
I’m personally applauding the Parkland survivors and cheering them on to reach their goal of sensible gun laws. In the same way, I want to cheer on the young people in our churches to affect Gospel change in their generation.