Empowering Youth for Faithful Activism

Jul 7, 2022 9:00:00 AM / by Rev. Carla Wilson

During the month of June, I was invited to open a local Juneteenth celebration with a prayer service that included blessing the youth group that made the event possible, not just in concept but in planning and advocacy. Their excitement and energy around being uplifted as community leaders and change makers was palpable. I immediately began to reflect on how frequently faith formation equips our young people to be faithful, loving, active congregational participants. Are we placing the same emphasis on empowering our young people to be change makers in the wider world for the sake of the gospel?

In this season after Pentecost, we journey with the disciples as they support the development and expansion of a new faith path. This does not just involve studying the words of Jesus and practicing living those words in our interactions with people we randomly encounter. Discipleship very much mimics the work of community organizers and activists: identifying areas of injustice or harm to God’s people and actively speaking out in ways that promote timely and concrete change, innovative methods of communication and relationship-building across boundaries and outside of comfort zones, intentional fundraising and resource cultivation and practicing communal stewardship so the work of the church can be accessible and equitable to all, and equipping other leaders to expand the capacity our limited groups can accomplish on their own.

The newspapers and social media platforms, even in my suburban and rural area, are rife with encouraging stories of youth countering gun violence or book bans and advocating for climate justice and creation care. Not one of those articles mentioned how the youth had been equipped to do this incredibly Jesus-like work by their congregations or faith formation leaders. I realized I want them to. I want my young people to feel bold and excited enough about their passions to go outside the doors of our churches, camps, and safe spaces and answer the call to speak out against injustice, build relationship with affected communities, develop practical resources to empower their efforts, and to train other youth leaders in friendship and solidarity.

A few ideas as we seek to borrow from the model of community organizers and activists: can we encourage fundraising efforts that involve offering services or pooling resources rather than selling goods? Can we link that fundraising to redistributing resources or mitigating harm for marginalized people and ensure we aren’t only raising money or gathering donations for our own trips and activities? How are we partnering with organizations or congregations outside of the people and communities our youth traditionally encounter? Are we visiting historically Black or Latine church festivals or praise concerts to build relationship outside of our comfort zone? Are we working on service projects together once relationships are built, to deepen and sustain them?

We are not all called to a life of full-time faith-based advocacy, but we are certainly all called to a life of discipleship, and hopefully in the opportunity of this reinvention-filled summer, one can look much like the other for our youth.

Topics: Youth Ministry

Rev. Carla Wilson

Written by Rev. Carla Wilson

Still a professional diversity trainer and cultural competency consultant, The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson also serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA. A former Poet Laureate of York, Pennsylvania and an adoring dog mom, Carla lives in Lancaster, PA with her family.


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