by Lori Richey
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. John 10:4
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:16-18
Today’s announcements aren’t subtle. Breaking News at 10! New sermon series this Sunday! In our world of constant distraction, the powers-that-be have to shout loud to get our attention. Imagine what it must have been like for the shepherds to hear the angelic message encouraging them to go and find the baby in the manger, and then for them to actually decide to follow that command. The shepherds were terrified and no doubt wondering “Why us?” But they stepped out of their comfort zone, witnessed the Christ child in the stable, and obediently spread the word. Though most likely frightened, confused, and unprepared, the shepherds’ actions speak of faith, trust, and an evangelistic spirit – not unlike the volunteers in our own congregations that we look to in shepherding our youth today.
It’s April, you’re in the middle of mission trip planning, and panic sets in because you don’t have enough volunteers to satisfy the appropriate youth-to-adult ratio. Or you’re recruiting Sunday School teachers or UMYF sponsors. Sometimes when I’m talking to people about these needs, I can see the fear in their eyes or hear the uncertainty in their voice – “You want ME to work with teenagers?” It’s easy to take the route of least resistance and put the all-call in the church bulletin, begging for adults to be a warm body in the church van, just so you can make the numbers work out. But just as some people gravitate to babies and some make them scream, not everyone gets a seventh grader’s crazy mood swings or can tolerate one more game of Sardines in the church basement. And your youth deserve the best that your congregation has to offer.
The young adult who searches out a specific youth on Sunday morning and asks how Friday night’s football game went. The one who says yes to being a UMYF sponsor year after year, choosing snack suppers and hanging out with teenagers on Sunday nights over time at home with their own family. The long-time member who compliments a high schooler intentionally after an offertory solo. Shepherds all. Drawn to young people, these partners in ministry, whether official volunteers or regular members of the congregation, are seeking to be part of God’s story by investing in the next generation of disciples. They often step out of their comfort zone to be on a teen’s level – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Their presence in the youth room, at the dance recital, or on the mission trip helps a teenager feel a web of support that sends the message loud and clear… YOU are mine. YOU are loved. With YOU I am pleased. And those same adults tell others about how great the youth of your church are and the cool things they are doing – in the pews, at work, on social media. Shepherds keeping watch and going on ahead, so that young people will know their voices and follow where they lead. Thanks be to God.
After praying for discernment, set a goal of asking three or more new adults to be part of your youth ministry this year.
Does your church use a mentor model for Confirmation? Asking a specific adult to partner with each youth in Confirmation can produce relationships that last through college and beyond.