2015 Fall Academic Convocation

Expect more of youth, prof tells convocation

Churches should stop treating youth like children and follow the advice of biblical teachings, said Paul Kelly, associate professor of education leadership at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, during an academic convocation Sept. 10.

In a chapel address titled "A Theology of Youth," Kelly pointed out that the various words for "youth" in the Old and New Testaments describe people between puberty and age 30.

"The Bible shows little difference in the way it describes an unmarried 15-year-old and an unmarried 25-year-old," he said. "From a biblical perspective, youths are adults. They have the responsibility and authority of adults."

Kelly gave examples of David taking responsibility for taking food to his brothers on the battlefield in 1 Samuel 17:17-23, Rebecca choosing to leave home to become the wife of Isaac in Genesis 24:58-59 and Saul becoming a king in 1 Samuel 10:1 even though they were all considered youths.

"More than that," Kelly said, "God appears to give adult responsibilities to youths. He called Jeremiah to be His prophet. He chose Mary to bear the Messiah. At age 12, Jesus was at the brink of adulthood and goes to the temple to prepare instead of leaving Jerusalem with His parents."

Even though youth in the Bible were viewed as adults, he said, they were still subject to the authority of their parents or the community.

"The fact that David's father sent him to his brothers [in 1 Samuel 17:17-23] demonstrates his father's authority in David's life," Kelly said. "Similarly, when Joseph went to find his brothers [in Genesis 37:12-14], he was doing the bidding of his father. The biblical idea of adulthood does not seem to be incompatible with authority."

Kelly noted that the Bible presents youth as particularly vulnerable to youthful folly.

"Youth certainly do not always act wisely or with restraint," he said. "While youth should be seen as adults, they are adults without experience. They are in need of the wisdom of the family and the community to guide them in life. The Bible presents youth as particularly in danger of life-destroying choices."

But Kelly said the Bible also presents youth as those who should be full of passionate faith. For example, Mary submitted to God to bear the Messiah, David killed a giant and Jeremiah became a young prophet.

"Youth in the Bible are not incompetent children," he said. "They are not limited in their abilities. They are encouraged to let no one look down on them but to be an example of faith. That is the biblical description of youth, and that should form our theology of youth."

That theology must be integrated into culture, Kelly said, offering suggestions for churches to follow as they work with young people.

"The faith community should begin to view adolescents differently," he said. "Greater expectations for participation and leadership will help adolescents to overcome the cultural stigma of being a grown adult with no adult authority of responsibility. Placing adolescents in a youth ministry ghetto with no interaction with other adults is unlikely to help them develop."

Kelly said adolescents also must be viewed as part of a family unity, with opportunities for families to worship, recreate and study together instead of always segregating them by age group. That should not preclude participation in the broader faith community, engaging with their peers or investing in younger members of the congregation.

"Such experiences are both culturally important and helpful in developing them as adults of faith," he said.

But godly role models are a necessity as youth gain experience as adults, Kelly said.

"Youth group leaders can certainly serve as these role models," he said, "but churches must be sure they are selecting youth leaders who are good examples of passionate Christian adulthood, and not merely individuals who enjoy playing with kids."

Young people still need help to meet the challenges of temptation, Kelly said.

"In a culture in which sexual promiscuity is expected, youth need help understanding the dangers of youthful folly," he said. "The faith community needs to offer real-life strategies for fleeing inappropriate passions -- whether they relate to money, anger, sexuality or pointless arguments. We need to help youth to pursue peace, purity and life."

And the faith community must call youth to passionate faith, he said.

"The church must not be content with church attendance or simplistic answers," Kelly said. "The faith community must raise the level of expectation of youth to be true examples of passionate faith."
Kathie Chute is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, with campuses currently in Mill Valley and Brea, Calif., and in Denver, Phoenix and the Pacific Northwest.