IN MY office hangs a poster of the painting Dalit Madonna by Jyoti Sahi, an artist and practical theologian from South India.
The Eastern orthodox tradition calls Mary Theotokos, or “Godbearer”, because she quite literally bore God’s presence into the world.
A friend of mine tells me that God specialises in calling upon unlikely suspects for such missions. Young people – inexperienced, sometimes impetuous, seemingly improbably for such an important undertaking – but so often chosen by God in both the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament.
This ordinary teenage girl, from a backward out of the way little village serves as a guide, a challenge, and a reminder for all Christians in their ministry and in particular in ministry with youth.
Mary is a guide for ministry because she is a reminder that God considered young people not as a peripheral people in the community of faith but as full and important members.
In Deuteronomy six children were the group singled out for attention: “These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.”
The disciples were rebuked when they were preventing children from coming to Jesus. Even on Jesus’ final night a young lad had snuck out of bed to follow Jesus (Mark 14:51).
Today with insights from the social sciences and medicine we understand why teenagers need special attention from the church. Adolescence is the time of life when people develop their identity – including spiritual identity.
One education scholar observed that children ask the basic questions, teenagers ask ultimate questions, and we adults are too busy to ask anymore. This is the reason why the majority of people who become Christians do so before the age of 25.
Neurological research reveals that in early adolescence the brain has a growth spurt followed by a “pruning” that reinforces the learning abilities and habits that will last a life time. The habits of faith are best developed as a teenager. Brain growth along with other factors may also explain why young people are passionate.
Youth can become fixated on feelings that create conflicts at home but also an enthusiasm for life and love. It’s almost as if their soul grows larger to allow more space for “becoming”.
Young people are searching for an identity worth living for, that they can feel passionate about, that will lead them through life, and the good news for them is that Christ is that Passion. As Godbearers that is what we offer. Mary is a challenge to attitudes towards young people in that God not only considered her important though young in age but also allowed her to
make the greatest contribution to the world.
God did not consider her too young, too inexperienced, or too “adolescent” to bear Christ to the world.
IN FACT God seemed to be willing to use teenagers throughout history. They were not the church of the future or the next generation but the church of today with gifts to contribute.
David was anointed as a future king, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, Mark observed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Timothy took on leadership in the church and a lad offered two fish and five loaves – all these were young people who were willing to follow and used their gifts for God.
What would have happened if they had not been allowed to use their gifts and abilities?
These teenagers challenge us to give up our idea that it’s a one-way traffic with youth – and embrace God’s gift of young people to the whole church.
I have interviewed 35 paid church based youth workers to better understand the youth ministry in Singapore. In this research I have discovered what many of you already know – the youth ministry is strong in Singapore!
There is a strong emphasis on discipleship and worship in almost all of the church youth ministries that I have visited. Adult leaders with their amazing dedication seek to be Godbearers in the lives of the young people. In this selfgiving they equip the young people to be Godbearers.
The young people are given the opportunity to serve but in many of the churches I have visited this service was limited to the youth programme – the rest of the church missed the blessing.
In this time when the church is divided into the homogeneous language and age groupings we need to discover ways in which all people can become Godbearers across these boundaries. Where the young can share testimonies, offer their scriptural insights, lead worship and offer love to and with the adults.
Research in US churches discovered that it is this characteristic of a church creating a culture where youth are affirmed as contributing members of the body of Christ that was common to all churches with growing healthy youth programmes.
A teenage girl acts as both a guide and challenge in my life,so in her words I pray “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” — Mary a teenage girl.