As I reached my teenage years, I began to yearn for the feeling of independence that comes with a driver’s license and the keys to an automobile…any automobile. At 16 years old, I passed the road test and was on my way to freedom! I recall strong feelings of responsibility during my earliest days of driving. As if a grand new door had opened and I had been welcomed through a major rite of passage in our culture.
In a few short weeks we will transition to Eastertide, which reminds us of the interaction between Jesus and Peter in John 21. Peter, who has walked with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, has failed Jesus in monumental ways. Even so, Jesus reminds Peter that there is still work to be done. “Feed my lambs,” he says. Jesus is telling Peter, “I choose you! I’m giving you the keys and you have what it takes. Go for it!” As N.T. Wright puts it, “Jesus is sharing his own work, his own ministry, with Peter.”
We have similar opportunities with young people today. Research from the Fuller Youth Institute shows that people ages 15-29 are looking for a role to play right now in the church. They want to learn and are willing to devote their giftedness to the church…now. We are invited by Jesus to take the keys of the kingdom, use them, and invite others (including our youth) to take leadership roles at First Baptist Church.
Offering the keys of a vehicle to a 16-year-old to drive from one corner of our city to 200 East Main Street is an incredible responsibility when we consider the myriad decisions, conditions, distractions and rules a teenager encounters along the way. How much more important is it for us, as church leaders, to take the keys of responsibility, influence, and access off our keychains and hand them over to the young people among us? Today’s youth want to contribute, share their gifts, play a role, and be heard. They have much to offer.
Youth, like adults, will falter along the way. I imagine Peter felt like a failure; like he wasn’t good enough. When confronted with Peter’s failure, however, Jesus reassures him and reaffirms his leadership role. Jesus didn’t allow Peter’s failure to define him. What a relief! There was work to do and Peter was being asked to lead in it.
If the church is to meet the future with momentum, we must share the work of the church with our young people now. Loosening our grip on the keys is necessary for us to be vibrant as the body of Christ.
Minister of Students
First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN