I read once that faith is sometimes best understood by looking backwards. Now, on the surface that statement feels a lot like the inside of a Christian greeting card or one of those posters with cute animals and trite sayings that we hang on our walls to inspire us to do great things. However, in this case, I think instead of motivational drivel, this statement is actually biblically correct and has application for youth ministry.
Let me explain. Often times, particularly in the Old Testament though the various epistles of the New Testament have examples as well, individuals or groups of people are called to remember something that the Lord has done or that someone has done on the Lord’s behalf for them. In the case of the giving of the Law in Exodus 20:2, the look backward is a reminder of the Lord’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. When the Covenant is renewed at Shechem as the Israelites are about to establish roots in the land of Canaan, Joshua speaking for the Lord recounts how God made them a people and brought them into the promised land. Asaph in Psalm 78 recalls for the current generation of Israelites the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord so that they then will grow the next generation into one that seeks the Lord.
It seems that these types of memories are in actuality anchor points for one’s faith and the call to remember them serves as a way to either help gird oneself for difficulty or to motivate to action. In my mind, this begs the question for those of us involved in youth ministry as to what types of memories we are forging for our students that one day when they are faced with difficulty or the need for action that they can cling to and see the Lord’s faithfulness.
As someone who loves funny skits, a good practical joke and trips to amusement parks this next statement is hard for me to make. But I can’t help wondering how many of my students when faced with severe challenges to their faith in college or who find themselves in difficult life circumstances will say “the time that Danny dressed up in a chicken suit and did the funky chicken dance is a memory that makes my struggle make sense.” I will grant you that most young adults do not process life in statements such as the previous one. They do, however, have significant life struggles that put their world view to the test and it is during those moments that they need anchor point memories of God’s faithfulness to hold to during the storm. Because of this, I am forced to ask myself this question that I believe every church should ask of its youth ministry: “What memories are we creating for the students in our church?”
YXL 2009 Update: This past July over 110 high school students and adults representing 43 churches from 14 states gathered at Covenant College for the Youth Excelling in Leadership conference sponsored by CEP. YXL 2009 was a great week spent exploring the theme “LIVE FREE” through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Danny Clark (RUF campus pastor at College of Charleston) and John Craft (RUF campus pastor at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga) provided in depth teaching on the theme and Eric Ashley (Young Adult Pastor, First Presbyterian Macon) led us in worship. Highlights included a ministry project with Hope for the Inner City, whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River and hiking on beautiful Lookout Mountain. Perhaps the most meaningful event for all involved was the concert of prayer on Thursday night of the conference. It was one of those rare moments in life that youth leaders long for… students complaining because our one hour of prayer was not long enough. Next year’s dates are already set for July 5-10. You can find out more information at www.pcacep.org/yxl.