Last week, I was privileged to lead our junior high and high school mission trip to Milwaukee through Youth Works Missions. In Milwaukee, we stayed at Unity Lutheran Church, a gracious, hospitable church located in the Bayview area. This church is led by Pastor Kevin, who claims 90% of what his congregation does is outreach.
Every Wednesday, Unity hosts a soup kitchen, medical clinic, and outreach worship service. During the summer, Youth Works participates in these important ministries with Unity.
In addition to being passionate about outreach, it's obvious from even a brief conversation with Pastor Kevin that he's also passionate about worship and eager to share that passion with others. To do this, each week during the summer, Pastor Kevin enlists the help of Youth Works participants. During two brief rehearsals, Pastor Kevin empowers teens to lead the service. Then he steps back and allows them to do just that.
Last Wednesday, a group of students greeted people as they entered the sanctuary. They led us in worship, using songs they – not Pastor Kevin – picked, something evident from the fact that at one point, Pastor Kevin explicitly said, “The youth taught me this one this week.” They also read Scripture and even preached. In fact, one of my students – a graduated senior – preached on baptism.
This student recounted her own baptism story before then launching into the promises her parents made for her at her baptism:
- To live among God's faithful people
- To hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper
- To share the good news
- To serve
- To strive for justice and peace.
She then shared how she'd affirmed these promises at her confirmation.
Truthfully, most Lutheran adults I know can't recall these promises. Yet, this student could.
Because for three years, she's joined me in conducting home visits with our incoming freshmen, during which we ask our soon-to-be-confirmed students about how they have and will continue to live out these promises in their own lives. As part of this, this student has – for three years - shared how she's lived these promises out in her life. Years of doing this has left these promises etched in this student's memory, an important part of her faith formation.
After sharing how she made these promises her own at her confirmation, this student then tied each of them to our mission trip and how it gives us countless opportunities to put these promises into action. She concluded by challenging everyone in attendance to find ways to fulfill these promises in their daily lives.
After she finished preaching, Pastor Kevin transitioned us into communion, which other students then served. Finally, we closed with another worship song, once again led by students.
Through their participation in this worship service, Pastor Kevin invited teens to live out the promises made at their baptism and later affirmed at their confirmation, something they also put into practice throughout the mission trip itself.
My hope is that long after they return home, the teens on this trip – both mine as well as those from other churches – will continue living out these promises in their daily lives. I hope that like Pastor Kevin, those of us in positions of church leadership will also have the courage to relinquish some of our control, to get out of the spotlight, and stand behind teens, empowering them to serve and lead.