I have a lot of good memories about growing up in the Church. It was a place where my family spent a great deal of time. We had many close friendships and a place to belong. In this environment, I grew up with an understanding of God’s love for me and came to know Jesus and place my faith in Him personally as a teenager. There were many people who helped make this journey possible by investing in my life along the way. As I have reflected how many people have been a part of my faith formation over the years, I have come to see that there were two primary ways that adults invested in me. 1) People showed up. 2) People made room.
The first way people invested in me was by showing up. More than just smiling and saying hi to me on a Sunday morning, I had adults spend time with me to build me up and help me grow. There were parents and grandparents who showed up to help with Vacation Bible School and lead my Sunday School class. There were other adults that helped volunteer with our youth group when I was a teenager. I had a youth minister who spent time with me to teach me how to read the Bible and understand it. Other adults made themselves available to me when I had questions about God so I could figure out how to find answers to my questions. These adults showed up and invested their time in me in ways that allowed me to grow up into the Christian faith.
The second way people invested in me was by making room for me to be a part of the life and ministry of the church. When I was a senior in high school, I was invited to be part of a student leadership group that led the middle school youth group. This allowed me to play a part in both planning and leading the youth group program. This helped reinforce to me that my viewpoint and participation was valued as a member of the church body (even when I brought new and different ideas to the table). It also caused me to grow more in my own faith so that I would be more able to teach middle schoolers about God. I have often underestimated how important this leadership experience was to the growth of my own faith at the time, and my later decision to go into ministry. I was blessed by adults in the church making room for me to have some input into what was happening in the life of the church.
While my home church’s investment in me launched me into a real faith as a teenager, I was also blessed to have people at Bethany continue investing in me when I came to this church as a 19-year-old college student. I have been welcomed into numerous families in the Bethany congregation over the years. Many individuals reached out to me in my younger days to get to know me and build me up. The pastors and many staff members over the years have mentored me to help me grow. And along the way people also made room for me to make my own contributions to Bethany. Many times they were willing to try a new idea or ministry method instead of doing it “the way we have always done it.” And along the way, all this investment has helped me grow and find my place in the larger Church.
Showing up to build up young people. Making room for young people to contribute. Both are important. And both can be challenging. Both of these ways of investing in who comes next require intentionality, meaning they don’t happen by accident. Showing up to invest in young people takes time and requires that we be proactive to reach out to younger generations. Making room for younger voices in our church can be challenging since this involves being open to new things that might emerge. It takes intentionality to listen to other perspectives rather than default to “the way we’ve always done it.” Being intentional to show up and to make room is how we invest in who comes next.
As I reflect back about the ways that Bethany has blessed me and helped me grow in my faith and ministry, my prayer is that we would continue to do the same for young people for years to come. This means we have to look at those who are especially younger than me. I know that at 36 years old, I am still on the younger side at Bethany. But the truth is that I am already in a different generational cohort than those graduating college right now and entering the adult workforce in Austin. And there are many teenagers and kids in our church and our community that we also need to invest in so we can pass on the faith to those who will come after us.
As we seek to live out this intentional faith, I wonder what next steps might look like for all of us. Will you join me in asking the following questions and being intentional to invest in future generations of Christ followers at Bethany?
- How can I show up to in invest in the next generations? Some ideas: volunteer for Vacation Bible School, Kids Sunday School, or with Students at either Sunday School or MYF. Or maybe you already know a child or student in the church and you have an opportunity to grow in your relationship with them.
- How can I make room at Bethany for younger voices to contribute to the life of the church? Can I ask younger people what they see and want to see at Bethany? Am I willing to encourage younger people to step into leadership positions as a way of growing our church and passing down the faith to the next generation? Will I greet and welcome new people on Sunday morning when I see them in worship?