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02 March 2018

An army of adolescents

An army of adolescents

Eve Balshaw is Great Commission co-ordinator at the Evangelical Alliance.

It's unlikely to have passed you by that the US tragically witnessed another horrific school shooting last month. 17 lives were lost to a lone gunman in a Florida school, and sadly this is the ninth shooting resulting in death or injury in a US school this year. Barely two months into 2018 and this almost feels routine.

While you and I were processing what went on, teenagers across the US decided that this would be the last time this happened to them and their peers. Empowered by the eye of the media, students across the nation gathered together and left their classrooms in unison, demanding a change to the gun laws in their country.

I wonder how you reacted to this. As you watched thousands of young people walk out of their classrooms, did you see teenagers desperate to play truant?

Or did you feel moved by an army of adolescents, standing in solidarity with their fallen classmates, desperate that this never happens again? Not to their friends, not to their peers, not to any young person.

Their fearlessness, passion, and ability to articulate their stance, has garnered the attention of the world. Yet, any of us who've ever argued with a teenager shouldn't be surprised.

At 23, teenage-hood isn't all that long ago for me, and I'm sure the memories are still vivid for my long-suffering parents – that time I wanted a tattoo, a newer phone, another piercing, to move out... Whatever it was, I wasn't going down without a fight.

Do we, the Church, realise what an asset that kind of commitment is?

Are we aware that, within our own communities, we have an army of devoted, resourceful, deeply compassionate young people, desperate to use their voices? Are those of us who have been there and done that when it comes to teenage passion and vision helping to guide and direct our teenagers in the Church?

Scripture doesn't give exact ages for the 12 disciples but based on traditions for Jewish men at that time, it's reasonable to assume that they were between thirteen and thirty. Jesus knew that if he wanted to start something, he should begin by investing in young people. As did Paul: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12). 

We've heard the verse a hundred times but maybe we've lost a sense of appreciation for the fervour of our young people. In all our concern that they don't swear, don't have sex, don't go on their phones, and certainly don't wear ripped jeans on a Sunday, have we forgotten that our young people are a gift to God's Church? 

What might happen if, instead of asking our youth to get off their phones, we pointed them to apps that encouraged their prayer life? What if, instead of asking them to dress or talk differently when they show up, we asked them to bring a friend with them, ripped jeans and all?

It is reported that the reason the protests in the US have galvinised such support is due to social media. Through spreading the word, organising events, and sharing updates, a team of teenagers, built up together, supporting one another and being honoured by their elders, might just be able to create a movement that will change the world.

If there's a movement we want to see in the Church, do we dare to ask our young people to lead the way?

The Evangelical Alliance is committed to raising up public leaders, helping to change our world with the good news of Jesus in all spheres of life. Find out more about our public leadership work here: thepublicleader.com

Image: Lori Shaull