Leaders often talk of the importance of letting the next generation take on leadership roles in the church. However, in my experience as a young child and now as a leader, it tends to be more talk than action.
It is a challenge to hand over leadership to young people. With changes come mistakes and differences of opinion. Our fear of failures and missteps can lead us never to take a chance at all. But to equip the next generation, those of us in church leadership need to take these chances.
The church I work with has taken steps to include more young people in church programming and leadership. It didn’t happen immediately, and it still has its challenges. Involving young people, whether children, youth, or young adults, can be both rewarding and frustrating. But to be honest, this can be said about involving people of any age.
As a pastor, I have tried to create an environment where people feel comfortable trying things they may never have tried before. One of those times was when I encouraged our younger members to be involved with Vacation Bible School. As the main leader of the Vacation Bible School (VBS) process, I would come up with the décor, make most of the décor myself, help write the curriculum, and run a lot of the programs myself. But this was wearing me out, and I wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted with our church.
A couple of years ago, I decided to invite our young members to be more involved with VBS. Rather than just giving them jobs, I asked what they wanted to do. They naturally chose areas where they felt they had strengths. I also reached out to more people to help prepare props, décor, and more. While I still work behind the scenes with other adults overseeing many things, the actual event is mainly run by our young members, ages 9–18.
It has been rewarding. The children and youth of our church have made VBS their own. They're not just attending VBS, but actually running it! They are leading the crafts and science stations; they're performing skits, managing groups of kids, and teaching Bible lessons.
The difference has been radical! Our church is alive with joy during VBS week. Things run more smoothly, people feel involved and excited, and the kids have taken true ownership.
Handing off the keys has challenges, but the positives outweigh the negatives. In our case, it has given our church a glimpse of what our kids and youth can do when given a chance. It is a faith journey to stop doing everything ourselves and to trust it to the next generation. It is a challenge because we know things won't be done precisely as they have been done. But the rewards are amazing.
I love the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I believe it is a church that follows Scripture and loves Jesus. But we need to work more to include our youth, or we won’t be a church in the future. People from all generations and ages are a part of the church. Every one of them will continue to grow older. That’s not a bad thing. But it does mean that young people must be invited to step into the shoes of those moving on.
God calls each of us to be the hands and feet of the church. The words of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 remind us that every single person is an integral part of God’s family and the church family. Those parts include all age groups, nationalities, and backgrounds. We need each other to continue the precious mission of sharing Jesus’ love with the world. I pray that we follow Paul's good advice and remember we are each loved and needed by God.
Natashia McVay is associate pastor of the Moscow Seventh-day Adventist Church and Pullman Seventh-day Adventist Church in Idaho and Washington State, United States, respectively.