Saturday, April 17, 2010

Attending to the Youth is a Justice Issue for the Next Generation

Pulpit Survey

One of the joys that comes with being the President of New York Theological Seminary is in receiving numerous invitations to guest preach in churches.  Many of these are urban congregations who partner with the Seminary in one way or another.  Week after week I get to stand in a different pulpit and look out upon a new congregation.  While it is by no means a scientific survey, I get to see a number of trends and patterns emerging over time in urban church life.

Personal Concerns Over Social Issues

A number of commentators have noted in recent years what I would call the inward turn in urban ministry and urban church life.  I don’t know how many pastors have told me that their members want them to talk more about personal spiritual concerns in their sermons and not be preaching so much about prophetic justice or transformation.  “My people need help with day-to-day management issues,” one minister told me.  “They don’t want to hear about social issues in my sermon.”

Urban Youth Programs Strong

While this may be a general trend in the culture, one place where I have seen an opposite pull is related to urban youth.  There is a new emphasis in churches on urban youth leadership training, evidenced in the strong turn-out for programs such as the Latino Leadership Circle’s Urban Youth Leadership Training program which has been going on for several years.

Reinforcing Youth in Worship

At Good Will Baptist Church in the Bronx, where I preached several weeks ago, the Rev. Dr. Booker Sears identifies young people in the congregation by name during the Sunday morning service and talks with them about their successes as well as challenges in public school each week.  The fact that there are young people in the Sunday morning worship service in the church is itself an important sign of health as far as the future of the congregation goes - to say nothing of the future of the church universal.

Urban Youth the New Social Justice

I wonder if addressing concerns of urban youth is not the new social justice frontier in urban ministry.  Churches are organizing around issues of education and health care for children.  Intervention programs for so-called “at risk” youth, such as “Uth Turn” in New York City are manifestations of a deeper realization that caring for the well-being of youth is a justice issue, to say nothing of taking care that the church will survive for another generation.

Dale T. Irvin is the eleventh President of New York Theological Seminary and Professor of World Christianity. He is the co-author with Scott W. Sunquist of History of the World Christian Movement. Dr. Irvin is also the author of Christian Histories, Christian Traditioning: Rendering Accounts (Orbis Books, 1998), and The Agitated Mind of God: The Theology of Kosuke Koyama (Orbis Books, 1996), which he edited with Akintunde E. Akinade.

1 comment:

  1. For more than a decade I ministered to college age people. What I also encountered traveling around churches raising awareness and finances to support the ministry is that oftentimes youth programs are viewed as peripheral to what are considered to be more significant aspects of the church. Most times, youth is kept separately, seldom integrated to the whole of the church. You see them mostly as part of worship teams for their natural love for music. But we forget other aspects of leadership that can cultivate their giftings. Their involvement can breath new life to outworn structures and methods. One of the beauties of my church in Puerto Rico was that our youth was involved in the council and boards of the church along with other key ministries and leadership positions. Our youth group leaders were also leaders in the church as a whole. Of that group about 10% of us became ministers. I believe that caring for the youth also involves trusting that God can use them even now to lead the church.