A View from the Pew: The Blessings of Youth Sunday

A moment from Parkway Baptist Church’s student-led Youth Sunday, 2022

This is a season of transitions for young people marked by graduation and awards ceremonies. Churches complement these secular rites of passage with graduate recognition and youth day services.

On May 22 at my church, we were led in worship by our youth, and graduates received special gifts. It was a meaningful service for all involved—the youth and the church family. My younger two boys participated in speaking roles—the welcome, announcements, children’s sermon, scripture reading, pastoral prayer, and the sermon. As a result, I paid closer attention to the components of the service.

When the final benediction was pronounced by one of our youth, I found that I had truly spent time in worship and not just anxiously critiquing my children’s performances. After some reflection, I decided the value of a youth Sunday is deeper than I had previously understood.

First and foremost, youth services help pass down the traditions of our faith. When teens and young adults fill the roles, they better understand why those roles exist. Preparing the pastoral prayer helped my son recognize that it’s not just a transitional part of the service to bridge the scripture reading to the hymn. It’s a prayer for the pastoral needs of the congregation, and it’s not a selfish or self-involved prayer. It’s a prayer for and from the people. That’s an important lesson he learned best by doing it in worship.

A moment from Parkway Baptist Church’s student-led Youth Sunday, 2022

Even with such duties as greeting members and handing out worship bulletins, taking up the offering or singing in the choir, which are less about the individual and more about a shared task, students gain a deeper understanding and appreciation by taking on the responsibility. You can see it on their faces.

That’s probably the second greatest value of such services: the congregation gains fresh insights by seeing and hearing young people process their faith experiences. The young woman who led our choir and the congregational hymn also happens to be an American Sign Language interpreter. There was a fluidity to her hand motions that conveyed the emotion as well as the timing of the hymns. It was an interpretive act.

Those sharing spoken words requiring study and prayerful reflection have the most obvious opportunity to provide a new perspective, but what I learned was that my heart was full from participating in all of the parts of the service, not just the verbal elements.

The final blessing, and what I think is potentially the most crucial, is that God works in the lives of young people, calling them or affirming their call when they use their gifts to lead in worship. I’ve heard it from pastors and musicians so often it’s almost a cliché—their first sermon or solo was during a youth service. Through that experience, they began to recognize God’s call to vocational ministry.

I hope your church had the opportunity to participate in such a service this graduation season. If youth Sunday isn’t part of your church’s traditions, I would encourage you to try it next year. Yes, the service might be a little less smooth, and there might be a few mishaps. But everyone can learn from those accidents and mistakes as well.

If we are committed to making disciples of our children and youth, I believe there’s no better way than giving them significant responsibilities and turning them loose to see what God can do in and through them.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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