Helpful Things: A Church Full of Young People
By Timothy Pauls
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8–9)
I have some new friends--a family that started visiting our congregation several months ago, whom I’ve been visiting regularly with the Small Catechism since. We’ve had many discussions about many different things. As we were discussing church one day, the adult daughter said, “Pastor, I have a question for you: Where are all the young people?”
Where, indeed. We’ve got some great youth, but they’re not exactly a huge chunk of the congregation.
When this family moved to Boise, they left behind a congregation full of youth. Curious, I asked them to tell me more, in the hopes of finding out what might fill the pews with youth. I’m always curious. (You might be too: after all, if you’re reading this, there’s an unfortunately strong possibility that you’re in a very small youth group. Shoot, you might be the youth group.)
After the discussion, here’s my conclusion: I think that their former congregation is full of young people because they all risk their lives to go to church.
This family is from a Middle East war zone where Christians are few in number and far from popular. Especially because of radical Islam, they could easily be killed walking to church on any given Sunday.
We came up with other reasons why there might be more youth in attendance. Western thought tends to be more scientific and more skeptical of religion while Eastern thought is far more sympathetic to religion; so while our society usually mocks religion, Eastern society supports it. It certainly helps attendance when going to worship is the thing to do. (It’s often the wrong religion, but it’s supported.) Furthermore, they live so much closer to the lands where biblical events took place, which helps with a historical connection. Walking where Abraham walked doesn’t create faith, of course, but it does reinforce that God’s plan for salvation took place in history.
Some might wonder if differences in worship contribute. Actually, no. This family came to our congregation because they found our service (TLH, p. 15) remarkably similar to their home church thousands of miles away--an elegant commentary on the catholicity of the liturgy.
But let's circle back to this with wonder: a church full of youth where they risk their lives to attend.
Satan makes the most of any situation to tempt you away from the faith. In some parts of the world, he tempts with terror. Like the martyrs of the early Church, Christians are tempted to deny the faith or die for it. Around here, the devil’s strategy is quite different. Satan uses peace and prosperity to tempt you into thinking that evil is about as real as Hogwarts Academy and death as far away; thus, he twists God’s gifts of peace and prosperity into potential idols. After all, if forgiveness is really about deliverance from evil and death that’s far away, why worry about being forgiven?
I think I’m onto something: I know that many Christians--youth included--who fade away from attending church feel no need for it. If they were more conscious of death and devil, I’m betting I’d see them at church more often. And I conclude that, confronted with so much death and evil, Christians in dangerous lands see more clearly the need for Christ and the life that He gives.
Don’t be deceived, even though the deception is strong. Death is all around. Everybody in America dies eventually, just like everybody else. It may be from old age rather than an IED, but they still die. The devil works hard to keep us thinking about death. The Scriptures don’t; death and die in various forms pop up on its pages over a thousand times, because the wages of sin is death.
But Christ has conquered death. The Lord does not speak of death to bring you to despair, but to tell you the truth. It’s the devil who lies, not Jesus. So Jesus declares that all die, because all have sinned; but He also tells you that He’s died in your place for your sin and that the grave couldn’t hold Him in. Unless He returns soon, you and I still face the death of our bodies. But death doesn’t have the final word. Jesus does, and His Word to you on the Last Day will be, “Arise.”
Adults sometimes grouse that youth think they’re never going to die. It’s a pretty common temptation and the cause of some spectacularly stupid ideas. Thus my plea and reason for this article: Confess that you’re mortal. That doesn’t just mean, “Don’t do stupid things that could hurt you.” It means, “Confessing that you’re sinful and, therefore, face death, rejoice that Jesus has died for you. Go to where He promises to be: His Word, His Sacraments.” That’s why church should be full of all ages on Sunday morning, because Christ, the Death of death, is there for you.
Rev. Timothy Pauls is the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho.
This article was originally published in the spring 2010 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
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