Methodist youth and their impact on Singapore and the world
Nelson Mandela once said, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” The youth are our hope for the future and they are the most precious assets of a country. The same rings true for the Church, because without her youth, the Church will decline.
The United Nations defines “youth” as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. In Singapore, the definition is extended to those up to the age of 35. The term iGeneration (iGen) is sometimes used to describe today’s youth, who have grown up with smartphones. Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the smartphone has become a standard item in the lives of many young people.
The youth are able to access the latest information and are learning more expeditiously through communications technology than through traditional classrooms, books and print media. The Church needs to adapt to maintain relationships with the youth as moral values and biblical truths are still most effectively imparted through shared experiences and close interactions.
Many churches in the West have very small congregations, where the average age of the members is closer to 70. If our Church is to continue to be full of vitality and a blessing to society, we will have to be more attentive to our youth—to love, cherish, nurture, develop, train, equip, engage with and empower them.
Love and cherish our youth
Our youth live in a world that is both virtual and real, which can be confounding. Outwardly, they may appear to be busily engaged with matters of the virtual world, but many feel isolated. This generation of youths seem to have more friends and connections, but paradoxically are also more likely to experience loneliness. It is through interactions with adults who care that the youths can receive guidance regarding their online experiences and understand genuine feelings such as emotional attachment among family members, friendship and romantic love. They also need to learn from real-life examples of living out one’s devotion to God, holiness, love, care and concern.
Nurture and develop our youth
The youth are characterised by a strong desire for knowledge, vigour and vitality. They make clear distinctions between who or what to love or hate, and they have a strong aversion to despotic authority and highhandedness. Their responses are often quick and specific when their observations and experiences in life are in discord with their beliefs or views.
We need to understand modern influences on Christianity in order to effectively communicate with them. Nurturing and developing the youth requires empathy and understanding, and they will be touched by the warmth and sincerity of the adults helping them.
Train and equip them
Youth are willing to take risks and if they are clear about the goals of the Church and the hope and expectations it has in them, they will face the challenges and bear with the difficulties in the process. But clearly articulated ideals, direction and strategy, together with progressive and structured equipping, will attract the youth and garner their support.
To continue to grow the Church, we must have those willing to support and guide the youths in their walk with the Lord, helping them to grow spiritually, so that they can make an impact for Christ, both now and in the future. Not all young people will become leaders, but all will have a part to play in the future of the Church.
Engage and empower them
The pet peeve of youth is to be underestimated in their ability and competence. Admittedly, their experience is limited, but this can be accumulated through time. When Paul told Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” in 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV), he also meant for those who are older to show mutual respect to those younger than themselves and be ready to learn from them. Let us cherish the youth as part of our community, and ensure they are not marginalised.
Let’s ensure that young people have opportunities today to participate in all levels of the ministry of the Church, so that they can gain practical experience for the future. It is through this process that the youth can acquire a sense of responsibility and have their sense of belonging to the Church reinforced.
Because of God’s heart for the young, the Church’s role is to prepare every youth to realise who they are in God’s eyes, to help them identify their part in the body of the Church and to help them find and fulfil their calling. For this to happen, we need to establish trusting and exemplary relationships with them while they are still children and pre-teens among us. This work requires and deserves abundant manpower support and resources. Let us work in concert for the future of the Church; let us take care of our youth.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.