i am happy to join with you today with the utmost respect for the day we celebrate our independence as a nation. inspired by the great civil rights leader whose impact i could never hope to duplicate, nevertheless I believe it is for this moment that the Almighty has stirred in me these words.
one hundred score years ago, our Savior called the little children to “come unto Me,” laid His hands on them and blessed them. this incarnational decree came as a beacon light of hope to billions of young persons throughout the centuries. it came as a confirmation that the Father held a special place in His heart for those not having attained the age of majority.
for centuries, families carried out their ordained task of raising children to be godly. but eighteen or nineteen hundred years later, some began to abdicate their mantle as primary pastors to their children and gave that responsibility to the church… or the state. in the 1950s, recognizing a “youth culture” defined by young people’s cries for autonomy and freedom, churches began to offer separate meetings and programs for young people. thus youth ministry was born.
it would be fatal to overlook the tremendous good that youth ministries, in churches and parachurch organizations, have done over the decades. hundreds of thousands of lives are better for what we have done. many have come to know the love of Christ through the work of youth pastors and volunteers around the world. however, we cannot naïvely assume that all has been done is God’s best for children, families, and His beloved church.
i say to you today, my friends, that i see a better way than to constantly isolate our young people in a separate building, a separate meeting place, a separate walk of life. our children and students are not the church of the future, they are the church today.
i have a dream that every church member will see herself as a youth pastor, called to care for all the children of the local body. i have a dream.
i have a dream that we break through the one-eared mickey mouse mentality that isolates middle school and high school students from what we erroneously call “big church,” then dumps them into that big church as high school graduates expecting them to know how to relate. i have a dream today.
my dream is that from the youth room to the foyer, from the fellowship hall to the cabin at summer camp, no student will be anonymous. nobody’s name is “that kid.” instead of five students for every adult, every student will have at least five adults who know his name and his story. every child is known. every family is a vital part of the “family of families” called the local church. students whose families do not believe will find hope and comfort in being the family of God.
i have a dream today.
i have a dream that every family will live intentionally into scripture’s call to “teach (the commands of God) diligently to your children, and… talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” as members of one another, every adult will care for every child as we would for our own. older men will teach younger men, and older women will walk with younger women, according to God’s design.
i have a dream today.
i have a dream that we will not be something we gather in order to worship, but rather we gather because we have already been worshiping. our worship will not consist of songs sung in a certain style or for any but our Audience of One. worship is who we are as a response to His initiation of love. families worship together on sundays because they worship Him every day.
i have a dream today.
i have a dream that every mainline, every urban, every suburban, every rural, every large, every small, every pentecostal, every baptist, every evangelical, every orthodox, every catholic, every nondenominational church body will so care for her families that neighborhoods cannot help but be drawn to the Savior from seeing the love of the church on the corner.
this dream cannot come at the expense of existing ministry, nor by ceasing good, proper, and helpful work by dedicated vocational youth pastors and staff. rather, it is by joining all our efforts and intention toward allowing the church to be the church as she has always been.
and when this happens, when we allow families to care for one another in true agape love, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, old men and young boys, old women and young girls, from every walk of life, united in love for Christ, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the beloved worship chorus, “one thing I ask and I would seek, to see Your beauty, to find You in the place Your glory dwells. better is one day in Your courts, better is one day in Your house, better is one day in Your courts than thousands elsewhere.”