A Four-Word Tragedy

(The following is an excerpt from the book Therefore, I Train by Colleen Clabaugh)

 “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14 NLT)

            I have often heard the phrase, “children are the church of tomorrow.” I whole-heartedly agree. One day they will be leading, pastoring churches, running ministries, taking the gospel to foreign nations as missionaries, leading worship, and all the things that our adults are doing now. However, the statement in itself is incomplete. Yes, they are the “church of tomorrow” and worth investing our children’s and youth ministries into. Yet, they are also the “church of today.” They can lead. They can sing. They can participate. They can pray. They have needs. They have desires. They have souls. Not tomorrow. Today.

One night during our weekly kids prayer ministry meeting I asked the kids what they wanted to do with their lives. The answers to the question ranged from the typical doctor, fireman, and policeman, to worship leader, teacher, and missionary. You could see excitement on the faces of each of them as they shared their dreams. Some acted out their future roles while others talked about what they would be doing and how. No one was sad. No one was crying. Yet, I found myself with feelings of angst and remorse inside as the four words which prefaced each answer echoed in my head – “When I grow up…”

How sad those things that make our young people so happy are things that they feel they can never attain until they are grown. It is true that a ten-year-old cannot be a police officer and a seven-year-old cannot extinguish apartment fires. But what about those who wish to sing worship songs or be a missionary? Johnny may not be able to travel to China to share the gospel in an underground church but can’t he reach his neighbor or go on a local missions trip? Sally may not be able to run an entire adult choir but she can sing a worship song in Sunday school, Children’s Church, kids prayer ministry, or for a nursing home meeting.

The tragedy I’ve seen over and over is the numerous youth who have had desires to do something for God yet never reach adulthood serving Christ when they can do it. They keep saying “one day” and “when I grow up” and then find themselves backslidden away from God, giving the world their best instead.

Years ago, I was in charge of the youth ministry at the church I attended. The youth met on Friday nights and did the usual bible study and fellowship time as most others did. Meetings went well, youth and youth workers attended, yet something was missing. There was that same feeling of angst and remorse as youth members strived to find purpose with their life. We did the typical dream sheet questionnaires and talked about leadership, yet none of them were leaders. The youth staff ran the services, ran our events, sang the songs, preached the sermons, and led the ministries. The youth were just our audience.

It was during that time that I began to watch our young people and the children of our church. I became students of them – known as “reverse mentoring.” I listened, with the intent to learn about them and find out who they were. It was more than a paper questionnaire; it was real life teaching in progress only I was the one being taught. I found out what interested the kids. I learned what they wanted to do with their life and what ministries they wanted to be involved in. I learned what interests they had and I listened to their struggles. Then I turned their interests into involvement in ministries that paralleled the spiritual dreams of their life. The youth began running the youth service. They sang the songs, led the testimonies, preached the sermons, and led prayer and the altar ministry. It revolutionized their thinking to know what someone trusted them enough to let them try. It empowered them to action.

Did they mess up? Sure. Did they preach too long? Yes. Did they sing off key? Absolutely. Did they get stuck in knowing what to pray? Yes, a few times. Still, we trusted them. When they messed up, we taught them how to do better. When they preached too long we gave them a watch and someone to signal them to ‘wrap it up.’ When they sang off-key… well, we praised the Lord anyhow!  The point is, we gave took them by the hand, led them, and then set them free to try it on their own.

I encourage you to look for ways you can actively mentor kids and youth in ministry and prayer now. Don’t wait for them to grow up. Teach them, train them, let them lead, then guide them in how to do it better. As I always say, “It’s better to train a child than to fix an adult.”

Colleen Clabaugh
Kids & Youth Prayer Coordinator