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Experience is the best teacher

Young people can serve their congregations, schools, and communities right now.

Clark Schultz, author of 5-Minute Bible Studies for Teens, shares his perspective on the value of getting teens involved in the church as young people:

It is 1982 and Pastor Richard Pagels asks me, a fifth grader, to read the Gospel lesson for church. The following Sunday, 11-year-old Clark reads the prologue to John’s gospel.

Fast-forward to my vicar year at the seminary. It is my first week serving at St. Mark in Green Bay, Wis., a 1,000-plus-member church. My supervising pastor, John Parlow, lets me know he’s leaving for the weekend and I’m in charge. Gulp!

Let’s jump ahead again to my teaching days at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wis. While working through the book of Acts, the goal was to teach the teens what it meant to be part of the early Christian church, establishing churches and spreading the gospel. Taking a page from my mentors, I divided the students into groups to form their own churches. They brainstormed places where they could plant a church and then had to come up with an idea for sharing the gospel in that community.

For me, as for most, experience is the best teacher. Teens are not the future of the church; they are the church now. We need to look for creative ways to get them plugged in.

Read how two schools and a church are doing just that.

New Hope Lutheran Academy, Melbourne, Fla.

“We started a Kindness Task Force this school year as a way to get students more involved in a leadership role with our school culture,” says Steve Haag, principal at New Hope. “We make a big deal with the students at New Hope about the importance of understanding and living their identity as children of God, especially through using our core values. The Kindness Task Force fits especially with our core values of empathy and family.”

5 teen girls all from same school posing for a photo
The first members of the Kindness Task Force of New Hope Lutheran Academy, Melbourne, Fla.

New Hope invited seventh- and eighth-grade students to complete an application to join the group. All five students who applied for the inaugural task force were approved to join the group.

“I wanted to be a part of the Kindness Task Force because I had an urge to make our school a better place,” explains Adeline Haag, a seventh grader (pictured far right). “I wanted to show kindness to people just like Jesus perfectly showed kindness to us.”

The group’s main project for the school year was planning, organizing, and leading anti-bullying activities in October, which is Bullying Prevention Month. It has also left encouraging notes on the desks of students and teachers and put sticky notes with Bible passages on students’ lockers.

As Adeline notes, “The point of the Kindness Task Force isn’t to make the impression that the students in the group are the kindest people in the school. The point is that kids can make a difference in the school too, not just teachers.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis.

“I attended the 2023 WELS leadership conference in Chicago,” says Mark Blauert, principal at Wisconsin Lutheran School. “One workshop, led by Matt Vogt, focused on outreach in the community. One phrase that really struck me was ‘darkness does not come into the light. Light needs to go into the darkness.’ We’ve done canvassing for many years and advertising to invite the community to come to church, but I’d never given much thought to getting involved in community programs to build relationships with people outside our church in our area.”

girl reading to toddlers
Student council members at Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis., volunteer at Cops ‘N Kids, a community reading center.

Following the conference, Blauert visited Cops ‘N Kids, a community reading center in downtown Racine, and asked how he could help. Julia Witherspoon, the founder and director of the center, hugged him and said, “I’ll take whatever you are willing to do.”

“I asked if it was okay if I talked to the children about Jesus,” says Blauert. “She gave me an hour each week to lead the children in a Sunday-school-type lesson. Having some difficulties managing a dozen or so two- and three-year-0lds, I enlisted my wife, Helen, and three middle school students each week.

“By the end of the school year we had a nice routine,” continues Blauert. “I begin by talking about Jesus and a Bible story. Helen then leads a song. Then we divide the children into two groups. One group goes with a middle school child to read stories, while the remaining children stay with Helen and the other two middle school students and participate in a craft based on the day’s Bible story. The groups switch after about 15 to 20 minutes, and we wrap it up talking about how great Jesus is and cheering, ‘Yay, Jesus!’ as we pump our arms in the air. The students who participate are willing and eager to give up their afternoon recess and part of an afternoon class to work with inner-city children.”

This school year, volunteering at Cops ‘N Kids became an important part of Wisconsin Lutheran School’s student council duties. Eighth grader Tristan Schneiberg says his favorite part of volunteering is “seeing how happy the kids are to see me and to learn about Jesus.”

Heritage Lutheran Church, Gilbert, Ariz.

two boys greeting church goers before mass
These young men at Heritage, Gilbert, Ariz., participated in a Teen Service Sunday in December 2023.

Heritage held its first Teen Service Sunday in December 2023 and then a second this April. Aaron Bublitz, pastor at Heritage, says that the congregation plans to hold two per year. He reports that teens provided music for worship, served as greeters and ushers, and prepared and served the snacks for fellowship after worship. Young men also read the Scripture lessons.

“I worked on saying a Bible verse during the service and served food afterward for fellowship,” explains Evan McClelland, a ninth grader. “It was not very difficult to participate, and I would do it again. I would encourage other teens to do stuff like this because it is an easy way to help the church and a good way to connect more with people in the church.”

Bublitz notes, “The teens seemed excited to be able to participate and use their gifts to serve our church family. The congregation loved seeing the youth of our church family serving in so many ways.”

Encouragement for your ministry

“Take a page from my mentors and jump in,” encourages Clark Schultz. “Or, you know, toss your young people in. At first, they are like a deer in the headlights. But after they are done, it is such a joy to see the Holy Spirit work through their efforts and give them the confidence that mission/church work is not so intimidating or hard and can even be fun.”

Author: Nicole Balza
Volume 111, Number 05
Issue: May 2024

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