The Church of God in Christ’s International Youth Department plans to have a rousing time at this year’s International Auxiliaries in Ministry Convention in Baltimore, Md.
“What a prime opportunity we have to be young, strong and on fire for Jesus Christ…. We are going to have a blast lifting up the name of Jesus,” said the department’s new president, Pastor Benjamin Stephens III, in the church’s newsletter. “As the song says, I don’t know what you will come to do, but I promise you, we are going to clap our hands, do our dance, and lift Jesus higher!”
Thousands of young people are expected to attend the workshops, rallies, concerts and other activities that will be conducted with an eye toward teaching youth how to apply the word of God in their lives.
The task is a precious one, since the youth department of any church is charged with nurturing and training the spiritual leaders of the future. In doing so, however, those departments face singular challenges, which are directly aligned with the burdens that young people face at that stage of their lives.
Young people are “caught in an intense period of transition,” where they are trying to define themselves apart from their parents and to figure out their purpose, said Rev. Stephens in his book From Jay Z to Jesus: Reaching and Teaching Young Adults in the Black Church. And, while they are “trying to define who they are and what they are called to do, they are second-guessing themselves, their God, and their faith.”
Many young adults leave the church during this period of self-searching, and try to “find themselves” in the context of popular culture, which only sends them mixed messages, Stephens continued.
That’s why youth ministries “must bring them into a community of faith that recognizes and honors the developmental work they are doing and walks with them,” he wrote. “In the church they need to hear a message that engages the messages they are getting from the culture while teaching them ways to seek counsel from God, godly friends, and leaders as they walk through this important phase of life.”
In order to properly train and maintain young church members, they also need to be presented with a religious experience that is very “real.”
“They are not willing simply to come to church on Sunday and go through the motions. They question the relevance and power of the church. They critique form and fashion that don’t lead to deliverance,” said Stephens, who previously served as vice president of the Youth Department and as overseer of the Young Men of Valor program, which ministers to young men between the ages of 12-20 within the denomination. “[They] want to be involved in ministry that is real, tangible, and making a difference in the here and now.”
COGIC’s Youth Department tries to provide that in multiple ways as they pursue the goal of grooming young men and women to become self-sustaining, job-producing, spiritually empowered change agents that can become “valued resources to their families, churches, and communities.”
For example, the church has a Scholastic Motivation Ministry, which offers scholarships and uses other means of facilitating and enhancing youth potential.
Young people are also encouraged to actively engage in ministry—for example, several young people will go out on the mission field, right after the convention, to countries in the Caribbean and Africa. And, during the convention, the department will host a Men of Valor “Beautillion” and a Women of Excellence pageant, which are meant to encourage and celebrate the values of valiancy, virtue, discipline, self-respect, bravery and education, respectively, in youth ages 13 to 21.
It is all part of Stephen’s vision for the department to “Build on a Solid Foundation.”
Hailed by Charisma Magazine as one of the nation’s top 21 emerging Christian leaders, Stephens, himself, is an example of the potential that can be realized by the church’s youth with the right training and encouragement.
Stephens earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing from Whittier College; a master’s degree in divinity from C.H. Mason Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, Ga.; and a doctorate in ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. He currently serves as senior pastor to Trinity Temple Church Of God In Christ in Grandview, Mo.