The National Youth Agency has produced a “Youth Covenant” – a promise to this generation of young people.
You can read it here :: NYA Youth Covenant.
There is one key aspect of who young people are that is missing (physical, emotional and social needs of young people are identified, but “spiritual” is missing). This is disappointing, as – in the past – the NYA has acknowledged that young people are (or at least might potentially be) spiritual beings. They even published a booklet exploring the topic, “Spirituality and Spiritual Development in Youth Work.” (Maxine Green, NYA, 2005).
Spirituality is a lens through which to see and understand young people’s growth and – in many cases where it is important – identity. It is also a facet of adolescent development to be valued, appreciated and to be taken into consideration in our youth work practice. It is such a shame it doesn’t feature in this important vision and set of aims from the NYA.
It did though, get me thinking about our “promise” to young people – as Christian youth and children’s workers, as the church, as parents. What do we promise with our words – does this then match up with our actions? Maybe a question that should come before that is “Do we covenant with our young people?”
It is a big thing to make a promise, to state what our intentions are and then to back that up with action. As God’s people we can trace our origins back to covenant, to promises made between God and humans.
Right from the outset these covenants – from Old to New – have at their heart the idea of family and finding our true home in relationship with God and with each other. This isn’t a generation specific idea – it encompasses all of us.
Often it seems, because of our habit to compartmentalise ministry in to age groups or interest groups or “we need to reach these people” or “what do we do about millennials” we don’t (at least, so it seems to me) grasp the universal, intergenerational, dynamic of being God’s people together and that everyone – whatever age – is a part of that.
There are some challenges in scripture about what we should be doing, that maybe give us a sense of what a covenant with our children and young people should look like – two places in the Old Testament particularly, and one that straddles both.
First up, from Deuteronomy,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you like down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your forehands. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gatesDeuteronomy 6 : 6-9
That word, “impress” – to teach diligently, also has associated with the root of the word “whet”, as in – what you might do to sharpen a sword. This is not some vague “telling of stories” – if these commands (prime of which is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength) are on our hearts, then they are what fills us, motivates us, gives our lives purpose and meaning.
There is a rhythm of talking about them – whether at home, along the road, going to sleep, getting up. Those times in our day that mark it’s passing – we talk and teach the things of God. There are no children’s and youth workers, there are no “age appropriate groups” where this is done – it is in the context of intergenerational family that we pass on faith.
This is our covenant with children and young people. We will do this.
Second of the Old Testament passages that stand out to me is this from Psalms,
My people, hear my teaching;Psalm 78 : 1-7
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
Asaph, in scripture, named at the beginning of this Psalm might well have been the Asaph who was one of the designated worship leaders in the temple, tasked with leading the singing of God’s people. We can sometimes read the Psalms – or any bit of scripture – and almost see it as a private activity. Here I am, reading the Bible – on my own, having my quiet time. Or we can think of scripture as this mysterious message from God that needs to be interpreted by a few wise people for us to grasp . . . we can forget that – perhaps like this passage – it was belted out in worship by the people of God in the temple. A combination of declaration, instruction, challenge, inspiration and passionate plea!
We will tell the next generation. We WILL!
This is our covenant with children and young people, we will do this.
Then, the glorious preach from Peter on the day of Penecost includes scripture that straddles the Old and New, from prophecy to Spirit filled reality,
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreamsActs 2 : 17
It’s huge. I think we can miss the impact of this because it is so familiar – the Spirit comes to liberate, bring freedom and to give confidence to all who would be children of God, to all who would freely receive what God has for them – there are no generational barriers to prophecy and declaring the truths of God.
Children and young people do not receive a baby or junior version of the Holy Spirit!
However, are they prophesying and we are not listening?
Are they speaking and we are deaf?
Have they heard from God and we dismiss it?
What does the full participation of children and young people look like in our churches – are their words mediated to us through professionals or advocates who represent their voices?
What about their actual voices? Do they have the space to speak and act and make decisions and share in the “making of worship” the direction of church and the family of God? Are we in partnership with our children and young people as co-participants in the Kingdom of God?
Unless you might be tempted to look for a scriptural reason to avoid or deny their voice by suggesting that “young” might not mean children and young people, Peter finishes with,
this promise is for you and your childrenActs 2 : 39
There is no need for great biblical exegesis here – children means, actual children – the word used is “teknon” – greek for “child” (as in, an actual one).
What does participation look like – where do we give space, opportunity, encouragement – where is expectation that children and young people might be prophets?
Might they have something to say?
This is our covenant with children and young people. We will do this.