People who believe that young people are hopeless should have been with me June 20-26 at the 55th annual Lott Carey Youth Seminar on the campus of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.
Nearly 500 youth and their advisors spent a week for missional learning, serving, worship and fellowship. One of the most beautiful sights in the world to me is coming across a bridge on campus in the evenings, seeing hundreds of young people who have gathered for this missional impact week in the quadrangle courtyard talking, playing and building relationships that sometimes last a lifetime. Each year I share with our youth seminar, I come away feeling that the world can be OK.
I remember feeling that way six or seven years ago when I was in Guyana with my then 10-year-old son. He accompanied my wife and me on one of my international mission assignments. He and two or three Guyanese youth went with me everywhere I went. They visited churches with me. They visited an Amerindian community that we had to reach via boat with me. They visited a Christian campground with me. They visited a hospital with me. They visited a rainforest with me. They worshipped God with me.
At the end of the assignment, I asked my son what was the difference between Guyanese and United States children. His response: “They play cricket, and we play baseball.” I remember thinking, “Let’s turn the world over to the kids who have not yet been corrupted by the grown-ups.”
Our annual youth seminar is the major event in our International Youth Development work, where we help churches to nurture new generations of Christian leaders for the world. We believe that helping youth to learn through service is important to becoming a disciple of Jesus.
This year we included helping our young people to learn about advocacy – what it is, why it matters, why Christians must do advocacy along with ministries of mercy, and how they can make a difference. We included presentations from ONE, Genocide Intervention Network and NAACP College and Youth Division. We believe that connecting serving, learning, worship and fellowship is worth investing in for young people. It is hard work, but it is good work.
When my last youth director left to pursue other opportunities, we did not hire a replacement. The economy was rapidly turning downward, and we could not afford to pay someone fairly. Therefore, we divided the responsibilities, with me assuming my share of leadership.
I have had some of my colleagues look at me peculiarly because I am playing such an involved leadership role in our International Youth Development work. You see, I am the CEO. While I understand the arguments about good stewardship of time, why is it more important for the CEO to spend time with the adult leaders than with the youth leaders and youth leaders-in-the-making? Why should I spend time with potential donors and not with potential leaders?
Furthermore, I learn a lot from youth. How else can we learn to serve the present age unless adults take the time to listen and to seek understanding from youth? How else can we anticipate where the church needs to focus energy and invest resources unless we listen and learn from young people?
Last year, we arranged for many at our seminar to do some future planning for our organization. Wow! I had never heard adults dream how we can actually make a difference in any similar way. These young visionaries believe in the God who can do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or imagine.
Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention helps churches extend their Christian witness to the ends of the earth. Our youth seminar is a principle event in this area. It is worth serious personal investment of the CEO.
If we really believe that some of us plant, some of us water, and God gives the increase, perhaps more of our important leaders should invest more of our personal time and talent with the next generation of Christian leaders for the world. I do not know what the young people will get out of your time, but you will be better for it.
David Emmanuel Goatley is executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.