Every year, in the month of October, it is customary for us to celebrate Youth Month. I was watching the news yesterday and saw the announcement for the current Youth Month and it spurred in my mind memories of my days as a youth pastor, youth activist and youth ministry specialist. It also reminded me of the incredible value of youth to the world and to a small country such as ours. Youth is such an interesting period of life – we all must past through it, and how we navigate those years usually determines our destiny. The teenage years are critical.
One of the mistakes both churches and countries make is underestimating the value of youth. I recall doing many seminars and workshops for churches and explaining to them the value of youth. Many adults, whether it is church or national leaders, fail to recognize the value of youth and sometimes look at young people from the perspective of putting up with them until they get a bit older and more mature.
Churches often compare what young people put in the offering to the amount of work and expense we have to put out just to keep them around. This is incredibly shortsighted, but it still persists even today. I had to explain the value of youth by approaching it from an investment perspective to get leaders to understand just how valuable youth are and why we have to see the value rather than the current cost and maintenance requirements.
The average young person, at age 13, does not make much of a financial contribution to their church or nation, so it is easy to overlook their value, but when we examine it from an investment perspective, it changes the picture completely.
I have spoken with youth pastors, pastors, bishops and church leaders around the world and when I explain it to them, a light comes on and their perspective changes. Young people come into your church at age 13 and make very little contribution to your current bottom line, require a lot of resources to fund programs for them and sometimes disrupt the normal flow of things. The immediate return looks like a net loss – but fast forward 10 years and the same teenager has a college degree and now works at a law firm or bank and earns more money than 70 percent of the adult members in your church. If you invested in them for five years and they return from college to become an integral part of your church, the financial return on your investment is better than anything you could have invested in Wall Street.
The problem is that most pastors do not recognize this simple fact, so they fail to invest in youth. Young people move away from and dismiss the church and the churches get old and die because their future was not appreciated in that little “brat” who caused trouble at youth camp.
The financial aspect is one thing but let’s look at it from another perspective – leadership transition.
Any organization that fails to train and develop leaders to replace the current leaders will die a slow death. The future of your church or your nation is in your hands, right in front of you, and if you do not provide guidance, direction and opportunity for them, your future leader ends up as a gang member, drug dealer, teenage mother/father or criminal.
One conversation, one encouraging word or taking the time to pour into their lives can make a big difference. How do I know? I remember one day meeting a young man at the grocery store and he walked up to me and asked, “Do you remember me?” I honestly didn’t, but he began to explain. He said, “I was the young man you talked to outside the police station on Blue Hill Road.” I had to think hard to remember the situation, but it all came back. I went to the police station to help another young man who was a gang member but had changed his life and while at the station, I encountered this young man who had also gotten himself into trouble. I shared with him a bit of my testimony of coming from the streets and told him that life is about choices, that every decision matters and greatness is in him, but his choices can either bring out the greatness or derail it.
I spoke simple words of wisdom and never knew I would see the young man again. He told me how that conversation changed his life. Three weeks later, he submitted his life to Christ, later went off to college and became a leader to others. I walked away saying to myself that you never know who you are touching by investing in the lives of young people.
I could give you hundreds of similar stories. Young people whom I invested in, whose lives were changed, came back and invested in the lives of other young people. Young people whom I invested in who rose to tremendous heights in national life. One is the president of the Bahamas Medical Association, another is a senior partner at a prestigious law firm, another a Cabinet member of a political party, another a senior bank executive and advisor on financial matters for the country. Young people have tremendous value, but if we don’t recognize it, they end up on the trash heap of life, never maximizing their potential or fulfilling their destiny. This month, let us remember who we have in our hands and treat them like they are valuable. Like the Bible states in the book of 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to email@example.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.