Last time, we began our discussion on what is our theme for our conference this year: The Time is Now!
This theme centers around one of the two imperatives for our conference (I shall talk about that other imperative once we finish our discussion on this one). Aside from the fact that ministering to our own children, young people and young adults is the right thing to do, it is also something that we have to do, if we are going to survive as a conference.
When I was a little boy growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, my church school principal said something to us when I was in second grade that I have never forgotten. I have repeated variations of it many times-especially in these past few years:
“What you are to be, you are now becoming.”
In other words, the type of churches and conference that we shall be in the future-if the Lord does not come first-we are deciding that now-by the things we are (and are not doing) today. If we are not ministering to, training and making disciples of our children now, then in the future, when we need ministers, church leaders and disciples in our churches and in our conference, those ministers, church leaders and disciples are not going to suddenly and magically appear-the preparation for what kind of church and conference we shall be tomorrow happens (or does not happen) today.
The reason why I am so passionate about this is because I am a product of this process. I was blessed to grow up in this church. I was blessed to have Christian parents who believed that this was God’s church. They were not blind to its faults, but they believed that this was God’s church.
They made sure that my two sisters, my brother and I went to Sabbath School every week-we got to church every week at 8:30 a.m. (my father was a Sabbath School teacher and in those days, they had teacher’s meeting every week), even though we lived 30 minutes away from the church. There were six people in our house (sometimes, eight people-my grandmother rotated between our house and my aunt’s house in Chicago, and she would keep my cousin) and there was only one bathroom in our house. But every Sabbath, we were walking out the door and piling into my father’s station wagon at 8:00 a.m.
I was blessed to have good Sabbath School teachers, who in addition to enriching my life by reinforcing what my parents taught us at home during family worship, saved my life by not telling my father how silly my friends and I could act during Sabbath School (I used to say as an adult that one of the reasons why one of my favorite Sabbath School teachers never married was because teaching my friends and me eliminated any desire she ever had to have children).
My parents took us back to MV (which is what AYS was called, back in the day-you know that you are old if you remember MV and you know the words to “The Captain Calls for You”-which I think we sang every week at MV) and kept us in church school, where more people reinforced what parents so diligently taught us.
All of the good things that have happened in my life happened because of God, my parents, my wife-who I met at Oakwood, because of the sacrifices of my parents- and all of the Sabbath School teachers, church school teachers, youth leaders, church members and Pastors that the Lord used to pour into my life.
None of those people knew that I would be President of the South Central Conference one day. None of them said” We need to be intentional about our training of this little boy/young man because of what he is going to be when he grows up.” They did what they did because it was what the Lord told them to do.
A lot of those people, like my parents, are gone now. But we cannot-we must not-let what they passed on to us die. It is a strange irony that it seems as though a number of us have decided that the things that helped make us what we are, are no longer needed, that the things our parents did for us, we do not need to do for our children and grandchildren, that the things that helped keep us in the church, we are going to let go out of the church. And-we have decided to let those things go, just as Jesus is about to come. I am not sure anyone can really explain that.
Here is what we are going to do in this conference:
- From this office, there will be accountability as far as ministering to our children, youth and young adults. We have said a couple of things:
- Doing nothing in children, youth and young adult ministries is not an option. We are not going to evangelize the world while we lose our own children. As my son used to say when he would play basketball, “We are not going out like this”.
- If you feel as though the traditional programs, e.g., AYS, Pathfinders, etc., are no longer effective, you do not have to do them. But you have to do something. If you do not have AYS, have “SYA”. But you have to have something.
- Continuing the Accountability Theme: Just As We Expect Pastors to Do Evangelism on An On-Going Basis, We Expect Children’s/Youth/Young Adult Ministries to Be Done on An On-Going Basis: The Pastors just sent me their written evangelistic plans for their year, in order to qualify for an evangelistic appropriation. This year-for the first time-we required written children’s youth and young adult ministries plans as a pre-requisite for receiving an evangelistic appropriation.
In making recommendations for Pastor assignments/reassignments, evangelism has always been a part of what we consider in making recommendations. Whether a Pastor has been intentional in seeing to it that his/her church has ministered to his/her children/youth/young adults has not been a part of what we have considered in making Pastoral assignments. It should have been-and in the final months that I have remaining in this office; we have already begun to change that. To fail to prepare the next generation-the generation that very likely will be the generation that will finish this work-is preparing to fail and is a threat to the long-term viability of our conference. That cannot happen.
- In the Pastor’s Evaluations Meetings That I Have Every Other Year With Our Pastors, Which Will Begin in Two Weeks, I Plan to Ask Every Pastor, “What is Happening With the Children, Youth and Young Adults in Your Church(es)?” We began that process at our Regional Pastor’s Meetings that we had in January; we shall continue the process at our Evaluation Meetings this year and at our Pastors Meeting. In my bi-weekly memo to our Pastors this week, I am going to share my expectation that-at the very least-that all of our thirty largest churches have delegate representation at the United Youth Congress in Virginia Beach in April. Sometimes, when it comes to these kinds of things, churches will say, “We cannot afford to that”. The truth is, we cannot afford not to do it.
- A Lot of This Starts With Having Good Children and Youth Sabbath School. Sorry Children’s Sabbath School (I am reverting to how I used to talk when I was Youth Director), or, no Children’s Sabbath School at all, will kill us. First of all, our training of our children begins with things like family worship and Sabbath School. Second, when parents do get up and bring their children to Sabbath School, they expect us to be prepared to minister to their children. And if we do not do that, they will take them to a church that will. Then, we lose two generations. We cannot afford that. It is that simple.
- This Past November, the Conference Made An Investment in the Training of Our Youth and Young Adult Ministries Leaders. The Youth Department had a training weekend where they provided training and one meal. The Conference Administration backed that by offering one free hotel night to the first ten churches that requested lodging for this event (only three churches took us up on that offer).
Additionally, this conference has invested in something that few other conferences have: A full-time Young Adult Ministries Director.
Ministering to our children, youth and young adults is something that we have to do. It is something that we know how to do; I am where I am today because I was blessed to have been a part of what this church and the parents who were a part of this church did for its young people. We have to get back to doing it again.
What we do today does not have to necessarily look like what we used to do. But it has to look differently that what-generally speaking-it looks now.
I am not naïve enough to believe that everything is going to change all at once. We did not get where we are overnight; we are not going to get out of where we are overnight. It is a process.
But let us commit to beginning that process-the process of ministering to and training and ultimately, saving our children, youth and young adults today. Because- The time is now.