As a minister to youth, I can tell you that the pandemic has hit young people in a very unique way. While I can only speak from my own context in Vancouver B.C. I am sure that my experience has been similar to other youth workers across Canada.
When I talk with our youth, they have frustrations over things like prom being cancelled. They are annoyed that they lost part-time jobs. And they struggle to reconcile that things seem relatively “safe” while also hearing about a global pandemic. Not to mention that their regular youth activities have been drastically affected by COVID–19 restrictions.
So, how should we reach youth during this season? What does it look like to shepherd the adolescents in our congregations during a global pandemic? I would like to suggest three things.
1. Preach the Bible
Whether you are meeting on ZOOM or in-person, the regular preaching of God’s word is a must for the young people in our churches. I firmly believe that young people deserve to have the Bible exposited for them on a weekly basis.
Because this is how God works to bring people into his kingdom. Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14),
If no one preaches, simply put, no one hears the good news. As ministers of the gospel to these kids it is our duty to preach to them. We must take up the written word, exposit it, and proclaim it. It’s only as we preach the written word that people see the living Word, Jesus Christ.
So, if you are not currently preaching from Scripture let me encourage you to do so. Build out a sermon series, pick up some commentaries, and begin preaching to the youth of your church. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit will use it to transform hearts. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).
2. Catechize them
With many activities for young people being cancelled, they have been driven to more insular means of interaction. Social media—which was already a powerful force amongst youth—is even more powerful now that lockdowns have given people little else to do. If we as pastors think this will not have a detrimental effect on their spiritual lives then we are simply naïve.
The sad reality is, that all this time on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, is forming them in the image of popular culture.
The sad reality is, that all this time on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, is forming them in the image of popular culture. It’s catechizing them in the values of hedonism and pleasure, which is, unsurprisingly, un-Christian.
It’s giving them lenses by which they see the world and interpret life. It’s shaping their decisions and providing them with a worldview. A worldview filled with vacuous dances and twitch streamers. A worldview filled with wanton licentiousness. A worldview filled with vanity, vanity, vanity. Therefore, we have a responsibility to combat this formation in the world.
The way we do this is through our own catechesis strategy. Catechism simply means “teaching,” but here I am using the term more liberally than it has been implemented throughout history. Usually, when we think of catechism, we imagine some sort of process of memorization of basic Christian teachings. While this is good, I think we can expand it to include more than memorization. The goal of the catechetical process is to help someone form a Christian worldview through teaching.
It’s an attempt at systematically going through the basics so that when someone approaches any given topic in the world, they interpret it through the lenses of solid biblical teaching and not with the lenses of pop culture. To accomplish this a youth group could go through a systematic theology text such as J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology. You could utilize a historic catechism and confession of faith such as the Westminster or Heidelberg Catechisms. Or you could find more contemporary Catechisms such as The New City Catechism.
At Christ City, the church I serve at, we updated the language of The Westminster Catechism and teach through it once a week. We ask the students to memorize the question and answer, not for rote memory, but so that each topic we cover will get lodged in their minds. We then teach from the topic in a dialogical fashion ending our time with prayer. We have even reworked this updated catechism into a devotional tool which is in the process of being published.
This is, of course, not the only way to catechize youth, but it is one way worth trying. And it certainly is worth trying. Who knows, perhaps a revival of catechesis will drastically change the spiritual landscape of this nation.
3. Be Adaptable
The coronavirus has continually led to changing restrictions in different ways all over Canada. Which means now, more than ever, it is so important to be adaptable. While technologies like ZOOM may not be optimal for what we do, be adaptable. Use them when you need to.
As restrictions are lifted and you can find ways to meet again in-person, adapt and begin meeting. If you can’t meet in a large group then perhaps you can begin meeting students for walks around your city. This season has made the steady, week in and week out, routines that we are so used to difficult to continue. So be adaptable to the changing situations and needs of your flock. Not only does this allow you to continue doing ministry, but it also shows your youth that you care enough to change your ministry routines to meet their needs.
These are my three suggestions for how to shepherd your flock during this season: preach the Bible, catechize them, and be adaptable. Whether you decide to implement these suggestions and ideas is up to you. Yet, regardless of what you do, let me encourage you to continue running the race and fighting the good fight among Canada’s young people. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).