I've been in the youth ministry for almost 7 years here in the Philippines, not quite long like other veteran ministers who served for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years or maybe a hundred years. My love for God follows the passion to serve in the youth ministry, though it is not my intentional choice before, we know that ministering the youth is somehow a stressful job, but on the other hand, there's a lot of fun and adventure. I was inspired by God's love, that's why I learned to love this ministry.
I am one of those millennial youth today, and I live among them even though I am a Pastor. I cannot deny the fact that I am one of them who explore some good trends today, listening to some good crazy music, play video games, and enjoys a little bit of fun and adventure. I grew up in a strict traditional-conservative church and was obliged to sign up for the church activities and programs a sign of my commitment to God through the ministry. I cannot deny the fact that I've experienced those churchy religious lives, to the point, people labeled me as a holy person — a holy person who devalue culture separates self from the world, rejects things that do not agree to the church standard and so on and so forth.
I forgot that I am a youth who has needs but suppressed by the programs and systematic teachings I signed up and turned up to be moral legalistic.
Hey! What is going on here?
Well, making programs is good and necessary, preaching with boldness about the gospel is a must, and ministry activities are essential to the growth of a believer. But are we sensitive enough about our audience like the millennial youth? Are we sensitive about their needs, struggles, circumstances, their relevance and value to the society?
Most churches that I visited, I noticed some youth inside the church were like zombies seated at the bleach; some sleepy, some attentive, some thought of their lunch or snack, some were in whispering chit-chat and some were browsing their Facebook. In every fellowship gathering, they have the same sequence of program like in the regular Sunday worship service. It became a default system that only recycled and reused. Well, I don't disagree, but what I see is that the church is quite silent and centered on its own program.
Why some youth are not motivated and on fire in sharing the gospel? The problem is they never asked their self why they are doing the ministry. The only reason left is their point of reference that "the Pastor tells me to do so!" Now, If you failed to be active, then you're dead! You will be eaten by criticisms, comments, and pressure.
What did we miss?
Telling them about the gospel to receive Jesus into their heart will not end to that part, it must be followed by demonstrating the gospel. Encouraging them to serve is not bad, it is essential, but wait! Before telling them to go and do some church stuff, we must look at the concern. Did we meet their needs? Have we listened to them? Have we helped them to deal with their self? Have we begun journeying with them? We need to consider these things, we are pushing them too hard and too far.
Discernment is what is missing here. When we feel disappointed and see failures among the youth we blame and use them as an example at the pulpit, and become the avenue to rebuke them. The church is after the moral change of behavior, lifestyle, and even fashion, rather than listening and developing them towards transformation. Transformation will not come from us, or the programs that we have. Transformation is in the hands of God, and it is a process, a lifelong journey. Millennial youth need someone to understand and listen to their voice inside, not to give them a sermon, an advice, or even prepare programs and activities to ignore and suppress their feelings.
Failure to listen and empathize will make them feel unworthy. Failure to make them "feel belong" will make them choose not to attend or join (this will make them realize they are not important and worthy.) Blaming, judging, shaming of their failures, rebuking them because they did not follow instructions or do what we tell them to do — this will make them think to leave the church and made them feel not safe and secure. It is hurting.
Let me tell you this, when the preacher speaks about millennials, and ask"What's wrong with these youth today?," "they are different from our time," "the problem with these kids is because of what they are interested of: movies, television, internet, or the music that they listen, or books that they read." But what if we are the problem? A church that has no willing to change, does not read and engage in culture, not willing to have paradigm shift. A church that is so busy with the programs and activities, making people a bona fide member. A church that is not sensitive of what the message they preach and make them realize their fault. A program-centered church that boxed people's mind, making them believe that it is for their own good. What if the problem is in the family? Let me tell you this, what if we are the cause of their stubbornness, brokenness, pain, shame & guilt and hurt?
Our job as leaders and ministers is to show and demonstrate the deepest love of Jesus — that this youth have a hope, worthy and being loved by God in-spite of their messiness caused by sin.
Don't let the youth leave the church. Don't make them stay because of the program we make, or system to follow or force them to move what the church tell them to do so. Make them stay because of the authenticity of Love that overflows from Jesus. Not to activate and push them so hard to do ministry, rather to interact and listen first before you prepare them for the ministry. Our job is to care, love and develop them to reach the manhood and womanhood towards Christ-likeness.
Journeying with them is the basic and the best way to approach our millennial youth, they are hungry for a relationship and a family. Loving them will make them stay in our church.