Bring a Teenager to Church this Week…

This month, I just turned thirty. It’s one of those milestones of life that makes you sit back (as I imagine each new tens-column number does), and realize that, in many ways, you’re entering a new period of life. I might not feel different, but at 30 years old, I’m decidedly an adult- not an adolescent.

Fittingly for a time of looking back at those youthful years, our text this week was from Luke 2:41-52. In these verses, Jesus (rapidly grown from an infant to a twelve-year old), wanders away from his parents, who search franticly for Him for three days before finding Him at the Jerusalem temple, talking with the priests and religious leaders about God. “46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Mary & Joseph were much less impressed. “48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” Certainly that’s an understandable reaction on their part, and yet, this is the same chapter of Luke that brought us the Christmas story. Surely, after encounters with angels, stars, and adoring shepherds, they’d have a sense that this Child is special. Surely, they should understand that this child will have a desire to seek wisdom, and learn about God. Surely this would be no ordinary Child.

Not like young people today. Sometimes it seems like, “It’d be better if there were no ages between about 16-23, or that kids would sleep through that phase. In between it seems like today kids do nothing except sleep around, disrespect and antagonize adults, steal and fight! “

Wait…that wasn’t about young people today, that’s what teenagers were like 400 years ago. (At least according to William Shakespeare-“A Winter’s Tale, Act III Scene 3”). Today, maybe we should give teenagers a bit more credit. I spent the first couple of years after college as a youth leader in Pennsylvania, and was always impressed by the commitment and depth of the kids I worked with. If we are disappointed with the values and immaturity expressed by some youth, it seems that perhaps the best thing we can do is to invest in them.

We might also try listening to young people, whether youth or young adults (or even grown children who aren’t youth, except in the sense that they’ll always be kids to us). Shakespeare might have thought young people were incapable of meaningful conversation and contribution, but the Bible seems to say otherwise. Obviously that doesn’t mean letting our kids lead us around with whatever they think-certainly they have blind spots. So do we; usually, between generations, those won’t be the same blind spots, and that’s the opportunity to learn. Often what holds us back most is the idea that our youth won’t be interested, and that’s a critical mistake we make as adults.

Youth can learn, young adults can learn, and there is a desire for God in every human being. Our youth are asking the big questions. They wonder, as we do, about God, and life and death, and who they are and how they fit in to all of it. If we’re unwilling or unable to offer to guide them with our experiences, they’ll do what they can to figure it out on their own. So, this week, invest in a young person! Whether it’s a child, grandchild, or young adult neighbor-invite someone to church, and maybe to have lunch afterward. Probably they will not be quite as spiritually attuned as the young Son of God, but perhaps as we listen and talk with them, we too will be surprised by the understanding and love for the Lord that our youth are capable of.