Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

18 Jun

Published Article-The Whole Body of Christ

Posted in Uncategorized on 18.06.11 by Merlyn

Published in Connections Magazine (July/Aug 2011)

Learn about Connections here

Whole Body of Christ

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Many stereotypes exist for youth workers, whether volunteer or paid. These stereotypes exist for every type of job title and description (youth minster, youth pastor or youth director). Stereotypes are always dangerous, yet are rooted in our fear, experience and inexperience.

Throughout my ministry, I have wrestled with the stereotypes of youth workers, both in healthy and unhealthy ways. I have often been proud some stereotypes do not fit me, while I have embraced others that do. The stereotype that probably does fit me is that youth workers do not think the youth should have to do a certain amount of work in the church.

In many church settings, there is an expectation that youth serve as the manual or physical labor force of the church. It is rooted in the logic that youth are young and strong. It is rooted in a belief that since youth do not and cannot give much to the church financially, they owe the adults and the church for supporting them and their ministry. While this may be true and even logical, it is not necessarily Biblical.

I often get myself in trouble for my view on this issue and for challenging people and institutions that hold this view. It is a stereotype and a criticism that I will continue to embrace. As a youth worker I am an advocate for youth and I value them deeply. I want to help others to value them as Christ values them, to see them as created in the image of God. Youth need to be seen as the present of the church and not the future (see the May/June 2011 issue of Connections).

Stereotypes can be dangerous,especially when it comes to the expression of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts transcend age, physical ability, race, gender and just about every other category that exists. Spiritual gifts are not about work or labor, but the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God who has given us gifts to be expressed in the church and in the world for the good of the one using the gift, the one receiving the work connected to the gift and for the kingdom of God in the world.

I am not suggesting youth or children should not help with the work of the church, nor am I suggesting the youth should not help the adults of the church. Instead, what I am suggesting is we look at children and youth the same way we look at the adults of the church when it comes to the use of gifts and the work of the church. While children and youth cannot do certain things because of age limitations, we should not allow that to dictate what gifts they have or use. We should not do this with our senior members either, even though their abilities may be different. We should not see our senior members as the past of the church. We are all the body of Christ here and now, and we are called to be the body together.

I am deeply passionate about spiritual gifts and helping all people find their gifts and use them for the good of the church, community and world. While there are many aspects of ministry I do not do well, this is one where God has blessed me with passion and strength. Nothing is more exciting to me than equipping, training, caring for and helping someone use his or her gifts. It is my “sweet spot” and my favorite part of being a pastor. I enjoy engaging with all the Scripture has to say about spiritual gifts. Read any of the passages on the body of Christ or the church (particularly Ephesians 4) and you will not find any age restrictions. You will not find any age, ability or strength-based expectations as well. You will not discover some parts of the body are only for the present, while others are only for the past or the future.

Helping children and youth find and express their gifts is more powerful than any ministry, program or lessoncould ever be. Service in the church and community builds relationships and deepens faith for people of all ages.

While children and youth may not be able to understand their gifts fully, we should still work to help them discover and use them. In my ministry career, I have seen children and youth do some amazing things in the church and the world.

There have been countless stories of tiny heroes who lived out the Gospel in real ways. In some ways, it is easier for children and youth to use their gifts. They have not been completely hardened by the world. They do not have the same limits, expectations and cynicism that can come with adulthood. Children and youth are incredibly creative, passionate and compassionate, which empowers them even more.

Churches should empower children and youth in the life of the church and give them as many different types of opportunities to use their gifts as possible. This honors them, and it honors who God has created them to be. To allow children and youth to use their gifts recognizes the gifts God has given them. Children and youth who serve in the church and community feel more connected to Christ, His church and His world. Those who use their gifts and serve as children and youth are more likely to stick with the church and use their gifts as adults.

Every church ministry team (or committee) should have a youth and young adult on the team, if possible. Churches should identify roles in the church where youth can serve, and then invite youth to serve in those roles. Children and youth should be a part of worship leadership and not just on a special “Youth Sunday.” Our youth and children are the body of Christ, and we must invite them to discover their gifts and to be a part of the whole life of the church.

We are all the body of Christ. Every follower of Jesus, every participant in the life of the church is a part of the body of Christ. We are unique, yet created in the image of God. Each of us, whether young or old, rich or poor, is invited to work together as the body of Christ. We have been created, saved and called by name by the One who created the whole universe. We each bear the image of God and have been given gifts by God so that we might fulfill the great commandment to love God, love others and love ourselves.

We have been given gifts so that we might join with God in the fulfillment of the Great Commission: to make disciples of all nations. In a consumer-oriented world and church, one of the best things we can do is to discover our gifts and begin using them for the good of the Kingdom of God in the world.

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