August 2, 2016
Have you ever gotten together a group of youth who feel passionate about how we can Kingdom-build on earth?
That’s what I did one week this summer—gathered with 5000 Presbyterian high school youth to explore, listen, and share at a national convention called Triennium…so they could then be sent back out into the world to be Christ’s hands and feet.
Being invited to be part of stage leadership for Triennium was a huge gift to me—but it terrified me. I was so nervous about whether God could find a way to use good-ole-average-person Jen, but every time I was on stage, it really was like the Spirit carried me. When I stepped on stage, I knew that God was with me, with them, and creating a space where stage leaders were in conversation with the congregation.
We were in a huge auditorium with two levels of balconies up top. Imagine, for a moment, 5,000 high school youth running to get a great spot in worship, jumping, dancing, singing…shaking the balconies with energy to join together and worship God. It was like Montreat on steroids!
I asked God to use me but instead God used them to teach me. Instead, I was intently listening to young people, being fully present with them, laughing, dancing and crying together. They made more than 350 pairs of shoes for children in Uganda, using old jeans, as part of a project called Sole Hope, then taped shoe messages all over the campus.
They made a giant light board and filled sidewalks with messages of love and hope!
These youth are the church. We had great conversations around politics, inequality, foreign policy, injustice, and much more—they have a voice and they want to be heard. And, it should be heard.
They have some really awesome ideas about how to provide good education for everyone regardless of their street address. How to squash gender inequality. How to move forward on gun ownership & violence. Even how to openly and honestly talk about mental health and identity struggles.
Sure, youth still have a lot of life lessons to learn. But they also have a perspective that is fresh, different, and valuable. If everyone sees things from the airplane view, we’ll never see the beautiful flowers and watch birds migrate. The view that young people have is just as important as everyone else’s view…not to mention essential if we want to truly be the church.
How can we hear their ideas? Invite them to be part of every discussion, actively listen to their thoughts, and have the courage to admit when they are right.
Imagine what it would be like to be church if every person had a voice that was heard, young people were part of the everyday life of the church and in the community. I am convinced that before the church or community makes any major decisions, they should have some discussions with a group of youth first.
Here’s what I know: I was changed by this experience. I saw God. I saw God in their faces, in their ideas, in the ways in which they weren’t afraid to talk about hard topics.
Can you tell my cup runneth over?
– Jen Evans
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