Some say “It takes a village to raise a child.” I may not completely agree with this statement and it’s common applications, but I do think it points to a basic developmental reality sometimes overlooked or under-appreciated by the Church: Community shapes youth.
Community is powerful. It is powerful because it is partnership. A community partners together in its experiences, convictions, goals, meals, stories, and more. The Bible calls this partnership fellowship. Fellowship is the power of community, by it the community becomes authentic, valuable, and trustworthy. Fellowship is not easy but earned; it takes sacrifice, trust, and investment. This is why a group with a noble focus but flakey partnership shrivels while a group with a weird focus (like 90s-era video games) but strong and sacrificial members thrives.
Community is powerful because it has deep theological and ontological (nature of being) roots and effects. The Bible reveals God as a trinitarian being in perfect fellowship within itself. God created humankind to be in and be capable of fellowship, with Him and with others. Sadly, we ruined our fellowship with God and others through selfish rebellion. Thankfully, God restored His fellowship with us through Christ’s death and resurrection. Amazingly, Christ installed the earthly church to represent fellowship with God through the fellowship of believers. The gospel points to fellowship because we need it, God built us for it, and that means it by it we are changed. Fellowship in the body of Christ leads to faith in Christ and to Christlikeness. Fellowship is powerfully compelling and sculpting.
So, what does this mean for youth? Community thrives on fellowship and youth thrive on fellowship. If fellowship in the body of Christ leads to faith in Christ and to Christlikeness, then our youth need to be a part of fellowship in the body of Christ. Amazingly, but not surprisingly given God’s focus on fellowship, youth crave godly community. They may not know it or they may try to satiate it with a different community (i.e. friends, teams, clubs, Fortnite squads, or Instagram followers) but they have an unquenchably deep hunger for godly fellowship. Listen to what they really want in life and what they want to be like in life: loved, true, tested and approved, good, purpose, etc. – by God’s design all these things are found, proven true, and produced in the godly fellowship of Christ’s church.
But if godly fellowship is part of a youth’s DNA, what they deeply seek after, and the best thing for them now and throughout life into eternity… then why do they seem so disinterested in church? Allow me a moment of boldness, I think it may be because we, as parents and as a church body, have failed to guide them into church fellowship and welcomed them into church fellowship. Not to say they don’t have the responsibility to respond to the gospel and Christian fellowship, but it is to say parents and the church body can pattern the glory and truth of Christian fellowship to youth in a way that prepares them to cherish the gospel and the fellowship of Christians built upon the gospel.
Parents, how does this fit into parenting? Parents ought to lead their children into the body of Christ. I do not mean only driving them to church and walking them to their appropriate classroom for Sunday School. I mean that, as your child’s primary discipler, God has tasked you with being your child’s leader, trailblazer, and model for Christian fellowship. Get them into Christian fellowship. Explain the big why’s and how’s of Christian community. Genuinely include them in your Christian fellowship. (Notice that I am not just referring to Sunday morning church here, but all of what Christian community includes – care groups, home hospitality, one-on-one conversations, evangelism, counseling, Upwards, funerals, weddings, prayer with others, and more.) Your children are searching for the most glorious community and you, by faith alone in Christ alone, are part of it.
Church, how does this fit into churching? If parents are to lead their children to and through church then the church body must welcome both parents and children alike. Generations of the church have the task of supporting parents in bringing up younger generations to love and respect God. Grandparents raise up parents. Couples without kids spiritual adopt kids that do not come from a believing household. Teens teach younger children. Children help parents with babies. Young adults impress upon teens. As we make and mature disciples of Christ the church must see it as partnership, fellowship between the parents, body of Christ, and children.
If we are being frank, we’d confess as parents and church members that we face internal and selfish challenges to this directive. Parents may think that church, care groups, and Christian fellowship are finally their moment to be alone with adults for adult conversations about adult things. Church members might find younger children distracting to their own spiritual time. Or, for both parents and members, the thought might be that children can’t understand Christian fellowship until they are older or more mature. These thoughts disengage youth from church fellowship and thus from Christ. I am not saying that you need a child attached to your hip every moment or have them included in every conversation. What I am saying is that parents have the God-given gift of broadcasting the glorious nature and effect of Christian fellowship to their children and the church has the God-given task of resounding that gospel broadcast in how they reflect God’s nature in fellowship with the youth.
This seems altruistic, but again we look to the gospel for hope and drive. Christ welcomed those who did not deserve to be in fellowship with Him into fellowship with him through personal sacrifice. The church body, to display the riches and glories of Christ, operates the same way – with a fight against pride and frustration, the body of Christ humbly considers others more important than themselves and in doing so authenticates the gospel’s value and trustworthiness to those who need it most. The community of God reveals God’s character and work in its fellowship. The more we welcome others and fellowship together the more prosperous the gospel will be in our church, families, communities.