As a greenhorn seminary intern I found my first church council meeting overwhelming. The secondhand smoke was so thick I inhaled half a pack without lighting up. I couldn’t follow the discussion or understand why three elders resigned and stormed out mad. I just remember being ever so grateful that my mentor, the pastor, hadn’t yet left on vacation.
I’ve attended many council meetings since and sort of got the hang of them along the way.
The song “Fools Rush In” was written about moi. At my first classis (regional church) meeting I didn’t understand protocol and put my foot squarely in my mouth. Ditto with my first CRC synod (annual denominationwide convention). But as I became more involved in such gatherings, I began to see how the church runs from the inside out. It made me appreciate how it works, why we do what we do, and what the real issues are.
Why tell you all this? Because I want to join my voice to so many others who observe how good it is to participate in these governing structures—good for us, good for the church. So why aren’t we including young people—say, senior high kids—in these structures? They have lots to contribute. It would be a win-win. The church would benefit from their perspective on most issues, including those not directly affecting them. And they would learn a lot and become engaged in the process.
We wouldn’t have to make young elders out of them. We could appoint them as advisers. They could be “extended the privilege of the floor” (church-speak) without necessarily being given full voting privileges. They could be excused when confidential issues are discussed. Maybe they could also form a caucus that would give advice and recommendations to the assembly.
The whole idea kind of “bit” me when I read that youth delegates to the World Council of Churches (a huge gathering of Christians from around the world) caused a major row when they were not given their allocated share of 25 percent of membership on the WCC’s governing body.
In the CRC we work hard at ministering to young people. But we could do better at inviting them to minister with us. We’re distancing a whole generation from meaningful involvement in church assemblies. That keeps youths isolated and insulated from crucial ministry decisions. That’s bad for all of us.
Ironically we trust 18-year old soldiers with M-16s, but we don’t trust them to deliberate with us on how the church should deal with issues of war and peace (see “Speaking of War and Peace,” p. 18). And we celebrate the gathering of all nations into the post-Pentecost church but ignore what Peter proclaimed about the prophetic role of young men and women (Acts 2:17).
Young people are the church of today as well as tomorrow, so let’s be creative and find a way to invite them to participate in our most strategic and widest governing structures. It will do them and the rest of us a postmodern world of good.
And don’t worry. There may still be some “smoke and mirrors” in council rooms. But that blue haze has been banned for decades. Young leaders, fear not—at least your lungs are safe there.