Christian liturgy and today’s youth

MANY ADULT CHRISTIANS DREAD being unable to “connect with the youth”. We often think that we have to engage today’s youth at their level, and a plethora of youth services, less “stifling” worship styles, and even specialised “youth pastors” have emerged from this movement.

Are the youth attending youth services because of peer attraction, style of worship, liberty in expression, or even charisma of the youth pastor? Do we, on our part, relegate them only to youth services without offering them the choice of participating in liturgy-based worship services? Perhaps the ancient liturgies may have something to offer the youth; something they are looking for amidst all the noise vying for their attention.

Take the Eucharist, for example. What are we offering our youth if we do not teach them the awe of the holy mystery of Holy Communion? Are they taught to perceive it as some stuffy ritual meal that the adult worshippers participate in, or are they taught to feel the presence of Jesus Christ at the sharing of His body and blood at the Table? e experience of this Sacrament instituted by Jesus should allow the young heart and mind to feel the reality of His presence.

Do the words of invitation inspire a reverence and closeness to “sup with the Lord” or do we teach them that it is something that is done because “pastor/ father/mother says so”? Are we educated ourselves in the mystery of faith?

Have you ever wondered what is the proper way to dispose of the bread and wine of the Holy Communion, after everyone has shared from it? It is blessed at the Table as the body and blood of Christ, so what do we do with it? Do we rush through the Holy Communion, not letting the full emotional and spiritual gamut be experienced by our congregations?

Do we rush through or relegate baptism to a different service altogether, and not let the whole church celebrate the inception of new members into the church? Do we teach them what a sacrament is?

One missionary I spoke to said that the greatest mistake we have made is to presume that the young ones we bring up in church understand our sacraments and rituals because they grew up in church. What we have ended up with, instead, are many young Christians today who do not know their roots, or why they are observing the liturgy.

We lament about how the young people treat the chancel (raised altar area) as a performance stage, but do we teach them, and do they know the significance of the various components? Do they know why there is a Lord’s Table, and what it reminds people of? How about the cross, the candles, and the baptismal font? Do they realise what the liturgical colours are supposed to remind them of, or even know there is a liturgical calendar that we follow?

Do we know these ourselves?

If the young people are taught the deep meanings behind these traditions, the door is opened for them to find a deep peace and joy from knowing these “rituals” are steeped in meaning and Jesus’ presence.

Is baptism something that our young people think of as “something that people have to do in church”, merely an outward sign of faith, or is it a sacrament, following the footsteps of our Lord Jesus, and entered into reverently and with significance attached to it? Are the words in our liturgy just clanging cymbals, recited over and over again ad nauseum and bereft of meaning? Are we guilty ourselves of teaching them to “skip the boring parts” of our liturgies?

I am not saying that we need to be slow and boring – the songs, psalms and hymns sung may be upbeat, and we need not read through the Book of Worship in a monotonal dirge – it is fun, a celebration of Christ’s Presence; solemnity when needed, exuberance when appropriate. However, we should not short-change the ritual and relegate it to a secondary role. at is where we have lost our youth.

We have not taught them the meaning of the rich traditions of the church, and have joined the ranks of the world in trying to vie for their attention with noise. Instead of being a unique light of the world, and salt of the earth, we have become one with the world, trying the world’s ways of reaching out to our youth.

We cannot compete with the sounds and sights of the world. The church can offer them something unique, but we must know it ourselves, and know how to offer it to them.

I am not advocating placing our young people in an environment that is toxic to their exuberance; there is a need for the outlet of youthful energy, but there is also a need to channel that energy with Christian education, character development, and into a deeper relationship and understanding of God and His church. A balance of youth-tropic activities with a healthy dose of experiencing the mysteries of faith is crucial for preserving our faith in the next generation.

Dr Anthony Goh, a member of Bedok Methodist Church, is Head of the MCS Web Team.