Some years ago, I served as a youth minister. As I came to learn, working with children and adolescents can be quite the education. Young people demand that we get to the point quickly, and that we make the message accessible and authentic.
But what I most remember about my youth ministry days was how effective young people are at teaching. And by teaching, I mean teaching me.
If I recall correctly, we were sprawled out in a circle on the floor of the youth room when I shared the old familiar story about Hannah’s son Samuel and how he became Israel’s prophet par excellence.
“What does God want us to learn from this story,” I asked the youth.
A middle-schooler perked up, “You mean besides the fact that we should have more lock-ins? Didn’t you say something about this kid sleeping in the sanctuary of God?”
I sighed. “Yes, besides the fact that we should have more lock-ins. What is God trying to tell us in this story?”
A skeptical teenage girl caught me off guard with her observation.
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “Hannah gave her son to God?”
“Yes. She dedicated her son, Samuel, to God.”
“My parents haven’t dedicated me to anything,” she said soberly.
After a few moments of silence, a high school guy spoke up and said, “I think it’s cool that Samuel had someone to go to when he had a question—when he didn’t know what was going on.”
A few others nodded in quiet agreement.
A high school senior then spoke up with a question that sounded much more like a statement. “It was the priest, Eli, that taught him how to listen for God’s voice, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was,” I confirmed. “He taught Samuel how to hear God’s voice and then instructed him to respond to God by saying, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The senior held my gaze for a moment, and then said simply, “Yea. I like that.”
“I do, too,” I said. “I do, too.”
This past Sunday our youth led us in worship. Just as it was true during Samuel’s time, God has something to say to us today. Under the leadership of Carol Cloer, our youth have been listening for God’s voice these last weeks in Sunday School and on Wednesday evenings. Their leadership on Sunday helped reveal that God was speaking to us through them.
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Are we? Can we say with confidence that we are listening for God’s Word? The story about Samuel and Eli opens with the revelation that, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” I don’t believe for one moment that this is a reflection of God’s absence but is rather an indictment on His people. Apparently, they had a hearing problem.
And God had something to say to them about it. If memory serves correctly, God took Eli’s sons to task for their evil ways.
God has something to say to us, and I for one am grateful that He frequently speaks through the youngest among us. I pray that we will be receptive to the message that he sends us through our youth.
There are ways that we can be like Eli and help shape the faith of our young people. True, our church has employed college students and young people to help teach the faith to dozens of children in our community in After School and in our upcoming summer camp. Yes, both Carol and I will be teaching these Bible stories to the children throughout the weeks they are in camp, but more needs to be done to equip our children to recognize God’s voice and to respond to His invitation to follow Jesus.
And this is where our entire church can be like Eli.
This summer, I would like to challenge you to play a role in the mission and ministry that we will offer to our community. There are three levels of engagement that you can choose from:
1.) Invite your Sunday School class, Circle, or gang of ramp builders to adopt a class of summer camp kids. Ask Kelly how your group of friends can support and encourage these children and their families.
2.) Tell Kelly that you’re able to commit to volunteering during the Bible story time, or during art or recreation. Learn the children’s names. Take a moment to piggyback on the lesson that Carol and I teach each day. Tell the college student staff member that you’d like to share your testimony with the class one day.
3.) Arrange to visit and hang out at the conclusion of the day when parents linger for a few minutes of conversation while their kids take their last crack at the tire swing. Introduce yourself. Tell them how glad you are that they are a part of our community and our church’s summer ministry. Go further and make the connection between that parent and the child you helped to paint earlier in the day. Tell that parent how you heard their child make such an astute observation during the Bible story time. Share with that parent how their child taught you about God’s love.
For years, churches would take mission trips where we would round up children in Backyard Bible Schools to teach them about Jesus. Hear the Good News, brothers and sisters! The children that we used to have to go and find are coming to us!
To put it simply, the story means that it’s our turn to be Eli. It’s our turn to teach children and youth how to recognize God’s voice and to respond to his Word.
It’s summer, y’all. And because of God’s rich blessings, our community will be coming to us. They will be worshipping in our Mission and Fellowship Center. They will be learning Bible Stories in our sanctuary. They will be building relationships in our church’s classrooms. In truth, they will be spending more time in our church than we will.
It certainly would be a shame for God to speak through these children and we’re not at church to hear it.
Don’t just pick one option on engagement, First Baptist. Pick all three.