A Seat at the Grown-Up's Table

My church’s annual meeting was two weeks ago. At this meeting, members of our church came together to learn about our church community, pass our church’s budget, and elect church council members.

Because I believe that my high school students constitute an important part of the church, I’ve tried for years to get them to attend this meeting. This year was no different.

On the Sunday of our annual meeting, when I walked into church and saw one of my kids, whom I’ll call Jack, I immediately asked, “You coming to the annual meeting today?”

Jack responded, saying, “You mean that old person meeting? Why would I go to that?”

Though a bit taken aback by Jack’s agism, I responded by simply reminding him that he, too, is an important part of this congregation and that for that reason alone, he should attend the annual meeting.

Though his absence at our annual meeting suggests he ignored my comments, I didn’t ignore his.

In fact, I contemplated Jack’s comments all through worship that morning before finally concluding that despite the fact that Jack has attended our church his entire life and is active in our youth ministry, he simply does not feel as though he matters to our church as a whole. When push comes to shove, Jack believes that the real decisions are left to the “old people” who run the church while, to borrow from an analogy I’ve heard Kara Powell use to describe youth ministry, he and the other teens are left to their own devices at a neighboring kids table.

This realization astounded me because in the recent past, every time I’ve heard Kara talk about the kids table, I’ve honestly thought, “How great is it that our church doesn’t have a kids table!”

Realizing that at least in the eyes of our kids, our church does, in fact, have a kids table renewed my commitment to try to get some of my students to attend the annual meeting, to help get them seats at our church’s grown-up table. To do this, that morning I ditched my leadership team meeting agenda and instead spent my hour with my student leaders going over the budget I’d proposed to the church council. I explained each aspect of our youth ministry’s budget, answered their questions, and then looked at it in light of our overall church budget, something that prompted even more questions from my student leaders. Then I connected our conversation to the annual meeting taking place later that afternoon and encouraged them to come and vote on the budget we’d just discussed.

That afternoon, five of my students did just that.

Thanks to the Bears / Packers playoff game, there was barely even a discussion about the budget at our annual meeting. Yet, when the time came to vote on the church’s budget, these five high school students raised their hands, said “Aye,” and together with the rest of our congregation, passed the budget.

And they did so while sitting at a table with adults, not as token youth representatives but as full, voting members of our congregation who love the church, care about its people, and want to be part of the community found there.

That afternoon, these kids sat at the grown-up table and in so doing, reminded me that teens are not just the future of the church, they are the church.

Comments

Keith

I didn’t even know a church had a budget until I was 25 years old. Kudos for opening their eyes a little wider. I wish the public school system would do the same.

Posted by Keith, over 8 years ago

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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