Youth Leader, What’s In Their Suitcase During This Crisis?

My church has a powerhouse Christian couple who’s been teaching a small group for young parents for more than 20 years. They help new parents gain a vision for discipling their kids.

They use a metaphor to help parents understand their spiritual role in their kids’ lives: in raising your children, you’re packing their suitcase. The child will be under your care and tutelage for a limited period. You are packing their spiritual suitcase during this season, and then you’ll send them off.

If you are a Christian parent, or a youth or family pastor, this metaphor holds true. For church workers who minister to young people, COVID-19 has created a mock send-off for many of our students. For a time, youth workers and church pastors will have limited contact with and exposure to our students, just like when they graduate.

This mock send-off, however, has extremely high, real stakes.

What’s in Their Suitcase?

Kids are encountering the crisis of the century and are now mostly disconnected from their church community. They’re seeing frightening news and forecasts. They’re asking questions about God amid global suffering. They’re confronting the reality of death.

What’s in your students’ spiritual suitcase right now?

I’d imagine every kid’s suitcase includes fun times, games, fellowship, and memories from camp and retreats. Maybe there are some life lessons and moral directives. Those are fine things every youth worker wants in every student’s suitcase. But what if that’s all that’s in their suitcase?

What if, after searching through it, we find there’s nothing besides rules and good times? Is that helping them find peace, hope, and understanding as they encounter terrifying, mortal realities? Let’s be honest: it’s not helping them much at all.

A suitcase full of moralism and entertainment will leave them high and dry in this frightening hour—no better off than any secular person without hope in the world.

These are the times when a young person needs a strong relationship with Jesus. They need a clear knowledge of God’s character and attributes based on his Word. They need a scriptural worldview through which they can process these terrifying events of the coronavirus crisis and conclude, “God is good and in control. I can trust him. I’m ultimately going to be ok in the end.”

Fill It with Christ

This is why we at Rooted take gospel-centered youth ministry so seriously. It’s why we want youth pastors, churches, and parents to take the spiritual lives of young people so seriously, too.

The stakes are too high to have a suitcase filled with fluff.

The corona crisis is global and gravely serious, but our kids will face many more challenges and crises in the years to come. There’ll be deaths, disappointments, diagnoses, divorces, and depression. There’ll be anxiety, cancer, job losses, injuries, and betrayals. Their relationship with Christ is the single most important item for their suitcase, and it must take up most of the space.

The side pockets should have community, fun memories, and moral direction. The main compartment, however, should have a deep understanding of God’s Word. It should have rich truths about God’s character, the gospel, apologetics, and the Bible’s grand narrative (creation, fall, redemption, glorification).

Packed in there around this fundamental knowledge should be spiritual tools to help them experience and cultivate intimacy with Jesus through prayer and Bible reading. And as we file through the contents, we see that parents, youth ministers, pastors, and mentors of multiple generations all contributed to the packing.

This Too Shall Pass

If you’re questioning the quality of your students’ suitcase, don’t fret. The coronavirus crisis will pass, and kids will return. But may none of us take for granted that this crisis has demonstrated the utter importance of quality spiritual formation for kids.

We’re packing a suitcase that children we love will carry for the rest of their lives. Ultimately, we rely on God’s grace and the Spirit’s work to sustain them in times of trouble. If their suitcase is packed well, the contents will give them hope, power, and wisdom for decades to come.

This article also appears on TGC today.

Cameron Cole has been the Director of Youth Ministries for eighteen years at the Church of the Advent, and in January of 2016 his duties expanded to include Children, Youth, and Families. He is the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry, an organization that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. He is the co-editor of “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practice Guide” (Crossway, 2016). Cameron is the author of Therefore, I Have Hope: 12 Truths that Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy (Crossway, 2018), which won World Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year (Accessible Theology) and was runner up for The Gospel Coalition’s Book of the Year (First-Time Author). He is also the co-editor of The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School (New Growth Press) and the author of Heavenward: How Eternity Can Change Your Life on Earth (Crossway, 2024). Cameron is a cum laude graduate of Wake Forest University undergrad, and summa cum laude graduate from Wake Forest with an M.A. in Education. He holds a Masters in Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary.

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