A guest post by Doug Milne (M.Div. '10, Northeastern Seminary)
It was the final night of teen camp and, as is the norm, we were seated around a bonfire sharing laughs, stories and snacks. Campers often take this time to unpack all that they have learned during the week. Typically, teenagers (and adults) will share how God has touched them during camp, recounting stories of a repentant heart describing how they found themselves living contrary to a righteous lifestyle.
Toward the end of the time, a graduating senior decided to share. Personally, I was looking forward to what he had to say because this involved student usually attended for the social aspect of events, not necessarily the spiritual.
He stood, captured the audience’s attention, and said the following: “I’ve been coming to camp for a long time now. I’ve met some great friends and now I’m going off to college. For those younger kids here, make sure you always come to camp. Keep coming to camp. Keep this camp going by attending.” I sat there thinking, “That’s it? Come to camp?” Of all the things to say with a captivated, impressionable audience, he said, “Just keep coming to camp.”
Clearly, I do not want to sound judgmental in any way nor am I looking to trivialize this scenario. I will assume this teenager had the best intentions sharing these words with his peers. However, after listening to him, I asked myself, “How does this represent spiritual formation in adolescents? What have I done, as a district leader, to aid in helping this student grow spiritually?”
Above all else, youth workers must have teenagers’ hearts and souls in mind—whether planning a Bible lesson or planning an amusement park trip. Spiritual formation is not some lofty theological exercise. It is the theological exercise. Believers must be formed spiritually on a constant basis. When Christ called believers to be his disciples, he meant for them to learn from him continually. Spiritual formation is the life lived in Jesus Christ. Spiritual formation encompasses all of the worship services, the Bible reading, the prayer times, the Christian fellowshipping, and the reading of inspirational and devotional books. We must practice and nurture our spiritual formation for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Spiritual formation is for all believers; it is not simply for adults. Our students are in desperate need of foundational, experiential spiritual formation and God has entrusted youth pastors and youth workers alike to assist in this process.
What is your church’s youth ministry like? How does the youth ministry blend itself into the vision and mission of the church as a whole? When teens leave your youth ministry and head into the workplace or into college, what does their testimony sound like? Does it sound like the opening story—keep things going for the sake of keeping things going?
Doug Milne (M.Div. '10) is adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College and associate pastor at Grace Church of the Nazarene in North Chili, N.Y.