Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew. -Psalm 110:3
Over the Fourth of July weekend, I had the privilege of spending time at Geneva College with forty young people ages 18-24, along with several leadership couples, for the Reformed Presbyterian Church's Youth Leadership Conference. As the above verse states, one of the glories of the kingdom of God is that the Lord through His Spirit works in the hearts of His people so that they give of themselves freely to His service. When Christ works this way, especially among the young people, it is truly refreshing to the church and is like the morning dew on a field, as the psalmist says.
That is how I feel today!
Yet I know what I experienced this week is the result of many other people's vision and diligent labors in the church over a number of years now.
Over thirty years ago, as I was just entering pastoral ministry, three experienced ministers in Indiana began to notice that too many young people who had grown up in the church were going off to college and leaving the church, often with their faith shipwrecked. Indeed, studies show that in evangelical churches upwards of 80-90% are doing so in this generation. So in response, these men began hosting an annual conference for college youth. Then other college-based ministries in the state began to develop. Similarly, God's Spirit was stirring others throughout our denomination as well. Presbyteries began hosting youth events that, while not avoiding some fun and recreation, were primarily centered on deep, challenging teaching from God's Word and service to the church.
These movements led to further denominational ministry starting. In 1998 the first Youth Leadership Conference was held at Geneva. The following year, the first Theological Foundations for Youth (TFY) took place at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. TFY is a three-week intensive program in the summer consisting of 30-35 high school students living at the seminary for the first and last week receiving lectures from the professors then serving in the middle week at area congregations (As they celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, I am excited that my youngest daughter will be numbered among those attending.). A growing interest in missions grew alongside these things, with RP Missions for more than two decades now sponsoring youth service trips to places both home and abroad. These ministries have resulted in the Lord raising up laborers for His kingdom. As a pastor, I have rejoiced to see young people, touched by such ministries, grow into adults with a heart for the church, and go to such places as declining congregations, church plants, and mission fields as the Lord uses them to further His kingdom.
I reflected on all of this foundational work as as I hung out with these eager-hearted youth this weekend and applied my study on the marks of the church to them. They were hungry to learn, with counselors telling me vigorous conversations were taking place in discussion groups. A number of young men asked to meet with me to discuss calling and pastoral ministry. Guys and gals were talking about how they could go home and refresh the church by quietly encouraging their pastors or beginning to minister in new ways to the needs there. When I spoke with the counselors and other speakers, everyone expressed the sense of the privilege and honor it was to be in their midst.
So now that YLC is over, this old guy recognizes he received far more than he gave, as I was refreshed and renewed being with them. What hope it gives one for the church. And, even more incredibly, what a wonder it is to see the fulfilled prophecies of the Lord's work displayed right before you!
For I will pour out water on the thirsty land
And streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring
And My blessing on your descendants;
And they will spring up among the grass
Like poplars by streams of water.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’;
And that one will call on the name of Jacob;
And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the Lord,’
And will name Israel’s name with honor. -Isaiah 44:3-5