We, as a church, are constantly planning, assessing, budgeting and searching. Many parishes study Natural Church Development, Missional Transformation, Fresh Expressions and more, all in an attempt to be a more relevant and outreaching community. Unfortunately, as we search, we often miss a reality that is right in front of us.
3 local teens have committed suicide in the last year in my small community. I watch the youth I work with and their friends battle the stigma of mental illness over and over again. My heart breaks for them and their families as they battle day to day issues that so many are unable to comprehend.
What are we, as a church, doing to help teens who are struggling? Mental illness is only one of the many ways that our youth are challenged: depression, anxiety, poor family life, poverty, abuse… the list goes on.
Every week I plan youth group nights: theme, simple message, food, games and fun. We build relationships and bridges in the hopes that somehow, we are connecting. I want these youth who may grow up and fall into a dark place to know I am there, that I care and that there is a community that will be their support. I don’t think we are doing enough to care for those who are our reality and who live just outside our realm of churchland.
We can preach about God and Jesus. We can attend church each Sunday to walk on our faith journey but if we don’t care for those who are not part of our church family, we are missing our calling. Sitting in our church buildings, running programs only for those who attend does not support or save at risk youth. But reaching out could. What are we doing for our LBGTQ youth? Our mentally ill youth? Our addicted youth? Our abused youth? What are we doing for those youth who have no resources for programming, like our aboriginal brothers and sisters in the far north? What are we doing for the youth who are couch surfing, or eating only one meal per day, because there is no money? What are we doing for youth living on the street?
Youth ministry cannot be fully realized if we are doing ministry only with those who fit in our neat world of “Anglican Church.” There are voices that need help: they need to be engaged and not ignored. We need to reach out and not simply plan weekly get-togethers that stay safely within church walls. We need to include, not exclude.
Who could we reach out to that needs love and support? Who are we missing? We are missing hidden and vulnerable youth. It’s easy to minister to those who show up to our programs, but what about the challenges of the ones who don’t? When do we make them beloved and care for?