Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my loyal child in the faith –
These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. - 1 Timothy 4:11-16
These words are recorded as Paul’s words to a young Timothy who was a leader in the church. West Raleigh has several of those as well. Last Sunday’s Confirmation lesson was about sharing our gifts. The central passage was Paul’s image of the Body of Christ. To introduce the image, each of us was to choose a part of the body and make an argument that the body could not survive without this part. In his original image, Paul used parts of the body like the eyes, ears, arms and legs. Without exception, West Raleigh’s youth chose internal organs – the heart, brain, central nervous system, pulmonary system, blood and skin. Many people live without sight or hearing, arms or legs. None of those parts are necessary to life, and people without one or more of them are fully human, fully alive and a necessary part of the Body, reasoned the youth. It is harder to live without the internal parts necessary to the Body’s survival. That will preach, I told them.
Earlier that weekend, two of West Raleigh’s youth attended the Presbytery of New Hope’s Senior High Retreat. Ellie Meynardie is a rising senior and in her second year on the Youth Council. She has long been a leader at West Raleigh. She teaches the toddler Sunday School class and assists in worship several times each year. I have a print of her Statement of Faith in my office. It is an eye, rich in imagery that reflects how she sees the world in relationship to God’s constant care and protection and her place in that world. Piper Baucom is a high school freshman, who was also on the Presbytery retreat Sunday when we elected her to be a Deacon. She loves to talk about how West Raleigh is her second home, and, the youth leaders have grown to count on her to keep the conversation going when adolescent awkwardness gets in the way.
We would not, could not be church without these young people. They lead us. They challenge us. Their music rumbles and lilts from the chancel into the congregation. They have clear and articulate opinions on gun control, climate change, gender and marriage equality and are fierce supporters of the LGBTQ community. Youth leadership is critical to the full life of the church, and, it turns out is also critical to youth developing a resilient faith. Youth who are leaders within their faith community are more likely to maintain a resilient faith and stay connected to a faith community into adulthood. We cannot live without one another. We are essential to one another’s survival. May we never forget or lose track of that.