Youth as Members of the Body
April 19, 2018 | by: Stephen Sprague | 1 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
The Church as the Body of Christ
One of the aspects of Paul’s writings that has fascinated me over the last few months is his writing on the body of Christ as being just that, a body. I’m sure this is a concept of Paul’s writing that many of us are familiar with, right? Each one of us is like a body part. Without a hand a body cannot function up to its peak ability. Or with a hand but without the rest of the arm a body simply has a hand attached to a shoulder (assuming the shoulder’s still intact) and that is certainly not the most ideal way to go about living. Paul uses this analogy to talk about the equal importance of each person in the church – so to speak. In his own words from Romans 12:3 – “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” One of the things that has been particularly fascinating to me more recently however is how this idea relates more specifically to our youth and children in the church.
Youth and Children as Members of the Body
One of the things that I have come to love about covenant theology is its biblical reasoning for understanding our children as members of the church. There are a number of exegetical arguments for this but one of the most convincing for me was simply the fact that Paul wrote, not just to adults in the household, but also to the children. In Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 Paul writes to wives and husbands, to parents, to servants and masters, and to CHILDREN. A letter written to the “saints in Ephesus” includes the children as its recipients, much like the Old Testament writings were written to a covenantal community which included children. So, if we believe that our children are members of the body of Christ, then what does it look like for them as they learn their specific roles as physical members of the local body?
“Let no one despise you for your youth.”
Switching it up a bit, these are the words that were most often quoted to me in my “youth” during discussions early on in life. Now, I suspect, these words have either encouraged some of us at some point in time, or even been ruined for us by teachers who have reminded us that Timothy (This verse is taken from Paul’s pastoral letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12), was likely in his early 30’s – so not exactly the “youth” of our youth and children’s ministries today (Sorry if this is news for you - it’s still a great verse!). Still, is this verse irrelevant if misinterpreted? And why am I switching gears all of a sudden to talk about a misinterpreted verse? My answer to the first question is “No,” and to the second questions is, “because I’m getting somewhere, trust me.” Easier said than done, perhaps.
My point is this – our youth and children should not feel separated or distinct from the rest of the church. Rather, we should do our best to help them to realize, from the youngest age, that they are an integral part of our church. That by their birth into covenantal families, and their baptisms, they become members of the church – and that as members of the church, God has created them to be unique members of our local church – Oak Hills. Sure there is a differing degree of faith that the Lord has given members – Paul is aware of that (Rom. 12:3) – but the leveling of the playing field comes, not by the strength of one’s faith, but in the alien objectivity of the gospel. All men, women, and children are saved by grace through faith. All enter the church the same way, through baptism. And all are nourished by the Spirit through the ministry of the word and the eating and drinking of the body of Christ in the Supper. In Paul’s explanation of the body to the Corinthians he begins with this thought – “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Helping our Young Members Mature
Now, the body analogy does not just level the playing field in the sense that it equalizes everyone in their unique importance in the church. It also ought to motivate us to serve the church in whatever ways God has gifted us. After all, if we are one of two feet in the church, the church needs us to do the things only feet can do, right? Thus, we should look for opportunities to serve as we are able. What does this look like for our youth, and perhaps harder yet, our young children? I think a good chunk of that burden falls on us parents to help our kids to recognize how the Lord has gifted them, as well as to recognize that even simply as children and youth, they are unique from us and thus at times they fulfill a different role in the church than us. Babies often soften hearts in ways adults can’t. Children lift our moods if we learn to enjoy both their maturity and their energy. Youth often help us to rekindle a positive outlook on life when burdensome years have inevitably hardened us to some degree or another.
Now, I recognize that this article is more descriptive than it is prescriptive. If I could end with two challenges for us as a church body they would be these: First, encourage our children and youth to serve. Look for opportunities where they can tag along as they are able. Maybe it’s a church cleaning or work day (we have one coming up!), or a mission trip, or bringing the sick, new parents, elderly or grieving a meal (and maybe even conversation and prayer if welcomed!), or simply cleaning the church/mowing the lawn on a Saturday to prepare for Sunday morning worship. All of these are great ways to help our children learn to serve the church. Secondly, we ought to model for them selfless service and enjoy them as they serve alongside us. And if you don’t have any children, you aren’t off the hook. After all, we are all a part of this body together. For those of us without kids, we still have the responsibility to help model for them what it looks like to serve the church with gladness and joy in our own unique ways. And, when we rub shoulders with them at a work day or on a mission trip, we ought to enjoy their presence and help – even if sometimes it might mean that the task takes a little bit longer to complete, or it isn’t finished as perfectly as we originally hoped. That time teaching them in their youth to love and to serve Christ and his church, as part of the church themselves, is priceless and worth any bit of inconvenience that might come with it now.
Speech, Conduct, Love, Faith and Purity
I’d like to end with the rest of Paul’s advice to Timothy as I think it has warrant for us today as we consider how we lead our youth and children to love the church. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Let us seek to be the example to our children of what it looks like to honor God and faithfully serve his body as members ourselves in our speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.